Chico school district battles food shortage

CHICO — Chico Unified School District is currently experiencing a food shortage because of impacts from the national food shortage.

Chico Unified School District students receive free breakfasts and lunches. There is currently enough food for all of the students, but there aren’t as many options as there were before, according to Vince Enserro, Chico Unified School District director of nutrition.

Enserro said there are labor issues across the United States.

“It’s a snowball effect. There aren’t enough people to pack the boxes or make deliveries,” he said.

All meals served to students meet strict state and federal guidelines and the bakery can produce many items in-house, according to Erica Smith, Chico Unified School District coordinator of community relations. The district is currently serving approximately 10,000 free meals per day.

But the district is seeing a labor shortage with all of the positions in general. There are currently 10 positions open in Nutrition Services, and there is a driver shortage, according to Enserro.

Enserro said his staff works really hard and does a good job.

“We have such a dedicated staff. They show up every day and serve our guests, the kids. We don’t know if they (the kids) will have food when they go home, and we take that very seriously,” Enserro said. “That’s the part I focus the most on, keeping the staff motivated and taking care of guests every single day. People are going above and beyond every day.”

Enserro says that most everything is hard to locate.

“Everything is hard to find, such as ketchup packets and ranch dressing packets. Before the pandemic, pumps were used, but because of the health crisis those can’t be used anymore,” he said.

Entrees such as chicken, pork, beef and cheese are hard to find, he said.

“So many people are scrambling for the same product,” Enserro said.

The pandemic has also caused a lot of problems with the system.

“Because of COVID-19, factories are shut down. It’s all been happening for quite a while. The problems started a few months into the pandemic. We are playing catch up at this point. All are affected, it’s all over the board,” Enserro said.

Enserro said that products are swapped out because of a shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables. In their place, nutrition services are serving raisins or canned fruits.

“We are doing the best we can, normally the salad bar has seven different kinds of fresh fruits or veggies,” Enserro said.

There is not only a shortage in food, but supplies as well.

“We are out of foil, plastic wrap, compostable trays, and some of the Asian food bowls since the second week of school. It’s all over the map,” Enserro said.

There is also a shortage of equipment. Enserro and his staff are waiting on equipment such as refrigerators, freezers or ovens. He said more storage space is needed and they don’t have places to keep all of the food. The staff is in the process of redoing the warehouse. The warehouse was built 30 years ago and the space needs to be updated.

“Chico has grown tremendously, the population growth changed food programs. There are more kids eating,” Enserro said.

Enserro said he and his staff try to focus on the positive.

“Instead of complaining about the shortages, we try to focus on what we did today with what little we have,” Enserro said.

The school district is happy with the work done by the nutrition services team.

“Our Nutrition Services Team has done a monumental job pivoting to meet the needs of our students and finding alternate ways to meal plan,” said Chico Unified School District Superintendent Kelly Staley. “Chico Unified continues to offer free and nutritious breakfast and lunch options for all of our students district-wide, despite the national supply chain challenges.”

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