CLEARFIELD, Utah – Throughout the pandemic, staff shortages and supply chain disruptions have hindered different types of businesses across the county. Those same issues are now affecting how Utah schools feed their students.
Before the sun rises, a team of 20 people sets out to make 30,000 rolls, 1,200 gallons of macaroni and cheese, and slice hundreds of pounds of lunch meat. This happens every morning before school starts at the Davis School District Nutrition Services facility in Clearfield, UT. At the end of the day, that team will have made and packed 30,000 meals that will be sent to roughly 90 schools across the district.
“The employees that we have working for us are dedicated to the kids,” Nutrition Services Director Natalie Bradford told ABC4. “They work here because they love the kids, and they want to make sure that the kids get the nutrition that they need. They know that kids can’t learn with an empty stomach.”
According to Bradford, the nutrition services employees are more dedicated to their work than they have ever been. This newfound dedication comes as the pandemic continues to create new challenges almost daily.
“We are short like 74 employees,” stated Bradford.
She explained that those openings are for kitchen staff in kitchens at schools across the district. This may not seem like much when one considers how many schools there are in Davis School District. However, Bradford said in one school, there is only one employee.
To counter this, the district has had to shift employees around schools to ensure all kitchens can function. Bradford told ABC4 that’s the reason the work of the 20 employees at the district’s Clearfield facility is so important right now.
In the facility, there is a freezer close to the size of a football field, large equipment for cooking food, a station to slice foods like lunch meats, and an enormous bakery. “We’re able to produce the food, to cook it, to bake it, and then ship it out so all the schools have to do is reheat it and get it served to the kids,” added Bradford.
According to the district, there were about 125 openings at the beginning of the school year. Bradford told ABC4 they are incredibly thankful for those who applied and filled close to 50 of those positions.
Nonetheless, being short-staffed does take a toll. Bradford stated, “We’re working on a very delicate balance right now of saving our employees by boosting morale and also making sure the kids get fed.”
To throw a wrench in that balance, the supply chain is currently disrupted. “This has created quite a bit of hardship for us,” explained Bradford. “We have had to regularly change our regularly planned menu because we don’t have the foods that were planned on that menu.”
Bradford told ABC4 that the district is large enough that it can buy directly from producers. She said this means they can get many products they would not have access to otherwise, but it does not guarantee the availability of all products.
Even with the disruption in supplies, Bradford assured parents that even with an ever-changing menu, there is always a meal available to students that adheres to federal nutritional regulations. She added that no student will skip a meal at the district.
“All of us are in this together, and all of us are trying to provide the best experience possible for students,” she stated.
The Clearfield facility has had a team of 20 people since it opened more than 20 years ago. At that same time, the number of schools in the district has almost doubled.