MILWAUKEE — Food shortages and worker shortages are hitting school districts across the country.   

Randy Jones, from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, said he is not aware of any school district in the state that is not feeling the effects of this.

Milwaukee Public Schools currently has 200 vacancies in its food services sector. The district is actively trying to fill those positions.  Dawn Butler came out of retirement to manage the cafeteria staff at Andrew Douglas Middle School.

“I went from working three days a week to five,” she said. “It’s important kids get school lunch because, for some, it’s the only meal they get."

That is especially critical for MPS, a district where more than 80% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.  Butler added she and her co-workers are feeling the employee shortage.

“I’ve heard of people having to work extra hours,” she said. “People are working late into the night to get stuff done and working second shifts.”

Andrew Douglas now not only serves food to his own students but also pre-packs meals for 12 other schools within the district. This is due to kitchens having to be consolidated due to a shortage of food service workers.

“So far, we’ve been able to successfully serve meals to all students and we’re working to make plans for emergency situations as well,” said MPS Director of Nutrition Services Omer Abdullah.”

Due to the bus driver shortage as well, Abdullah and other staff members have taken on the responsibility of delivering those pre-packed meals themselves.  MPS serves 55,000 meals per day between breakfast and lunch.

The national food shortage in cafeterias across the country has school districts changing their menus weekly, even daily.

“Our menus have been fluid,” Abdullah said. “We’ve had to make changes to our menus and what we’re serving based on what’s available from our vendors.”

DPI’s Randy Jones said the food shortage stems back to the beginning of the pandemic when suppliers had too much food.

“Those inventories took a while to be drawn down and when that happened, there was a sudden opening of business and those inventories have been trying to catch up ever since,” Jones said. “When schools opened up, it was additional demand impacting the supply chain.”

About 700 Wisconsin schools participate in the National School Lunch Program. Jones added that as far as he is aware, no school in Wisconsin has run out of food to feed its students on any given day.