‘It’s been an incredible challenge’: Food supply chain issues strain Holmen, Western meal programs

Schools and universities feel pinch from supply issues stemming from pandemic

HOLMEN, LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — School meal programs are feeling the pinch of supply shortages. Nutrition staff in Holmen say they’re struggling to keep certain foods on the menu.

School staffers don’t even know what products are available from week to week. It’s not just public schools needing to reinvent the wheel to keep food on the table.

“It’s been an incredible challenge with supplies,” said Mike Gasper, nutrition services director for the Holmen School District.

Here’s a lesson how fragile America’s food sypply system is

“From week to week to week, you never really know what product you’re gonna be short at,” Gasper said.

Gasper faces a new obstacle every time he places an order for meals students just expect to eat every day.

“A truck from a company that we use quite a bit of their products was scheduled to arrive at the distributor,” he said. “They just never showed up.”

No level of education is immune to the problem. The reason is quite simple. Allow Western Technical College chef Ben Salaski to explain.

“We’re usually being shorted about 30 percent of an order,” Salaski said.

“There aren’t enough workers in the warehouses or enough drivers delivering the product,” Salaski said. “Then you don’t have the warehouse employee to put the groceries on the truck to get it to me.”

The worker shortage hits school staff, too. Gasper received 15-20 applicants per open job before the pandemic. Now he goes weeks without a response.

“It gets very difficult after a while to keep asking the existing employees to do more,” Gasper said.

Gasper and Salaski must plan ahead more than ever. Salski orders more of certain products to ensure he has enough.

“I might have to go to Amazon just to fill the need,” he said.

There’s no one to blame, Salaski said, adding, “It’s not our supplier’s fault.”

He continues to work with what he has in a system that’s fragile, but still intact.

“You gotta just keep going — there’s no turning back,” Salaski said.

For a lesson on the supply chain, skip the economics classroom and stop by the kitchen and listen.

“Definitely part of the job,” Salski said.

Gasper’s suppliers told him things will start improving midway next year. Holmen school leaders might have to limit menu options in the future.

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