CCSD Kitchen Staff Shortage Threatens Student Food Supply


Nick Rui

A school lunch last Friday. The carrots were served in plastic bags, and fruit and vegetable options were served without plastic trays. While it was unclear whether or not this was due to supply shortages, it was a sign of how school kitchens are being run differently due to shortages in staff and supplies. Cherry Creek School District is facing a shortage of kitchen staff workers, yet despite this shortage and an increase in students needing meals, every student that has needed a meal has been able to get one. “I’ve yet to have anybody say that they weren’t able to get a meal,” said Kim Kilgore, Director of Food and Nutrition for Cherry Creek School District.

Emily Gleason, Staff Writer

Cherry Creek School District (CCSD) is currently facing a shortage of kitchen staff working in school cafeterias and has been since the COVID-19 Pandemic started.

“The supply chain and the staffing shortages have obviously been impacted [by the COVID-19 Pandemic],” Kim Kilgore, Director of Food and Nutrition for Cherry Creek School District, said. “[With] our level of service, we try to go above and beyond all the time. That makes it difficult when you’re serving more and more kids with less staff.”

In a recent survey conducted by the School Nutrition Association, 97% of program directors were concerned about pandemic-related supply chain issues and 65% cited serious concerns about supply chain issues.

Kilgore said that while all schools in the district are short on kitchen staff, high schools and middle schools are the most impacted due to the need of kitchen staff to serve the amount of students; in order to have enough staff in most school cafeterias, the district is dispersing workers across the district to the schools that need them most in order to be able to serve students lunch.

Prior to the pandemic, the district had between 10 and 12 open positions for kitchen staff. Now, however, there are 48 positions available out of the 300 total positions across the district.

During the pandemic, though the district did not lay any staff off, several staff members had to leave in order to stay home with their kids and help them with remote learning. Some staff members were unable to return to work after the pandemic.

Additionally, the pandemic has created a greater need for breakfasts and lunches for students.

Currently, Cherry Creek School District serves about 12,000 students breakfast every day and 25,000 students lunch every day. That is double the amount of breakfasts and 30% more lunches  than the district has ever provided before. The district needs to hire at least 15 to 20 more staff members because of this increase in meals.

Beau Jamieson, a kitchen staff worker in CCSD, said that “it is not a big secret that we’re short staffed.” At Jamieson’s school, there are usually three lunch lines open, but because of the staff shortage, they have had to close it down to two lines.

“Some days we don’t have enough people there. So we have to close it down to two lines, and we tell the students that the reason why we’re down two lines is because we don’t have [the] staff to open up all three,” he said.

In an email going out to CCSD, Kilgore stated that due to the challenges securing food and supplies in addition to the staff shortage the district will be adjusting their approach to food service in order to continue to serve daily breakfasts and lunches for students. This went into effect Monday, October 25.

Some changes include: fruit and vegetable selections at lunch being reduced to two options instead of three, entrées being reduced to maximize the efficiency of limited staff across the district, and a larger production of breakfasts to accommodate for a shortage of breakfast foods.

Sophomore Collin Hartman explained that while he has not experienced any delays while receiving lunch, the school cafeteria often runs out of certain foods like pizza towards the end of sixth period, the last hour for lunch. He wishes that school lunches had greater nutritional values and larger portions.

“I don’t think it’s enough food,” he said. “I don’t think it’s enough for a full lunch . . . bigger portions [would be better] because I think that it’s the size of portions right now [that are] probably good for an elementary schooler but not really a middle schooler or high schooler.”

Since the Food and Nutrition department is funded by reimbursements from the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program and not the district, not many people are interested in working for the department despite better salaries and benefits this year than ever before.

“Because we are basically a non-profit organization, you’re never going to get rich working here monetarily, but I think knowing the difference that we made in the lives of our kids whether we know it or not, really, is very fulfilling,” said Kilgore.

Despite the staffing shortage and an increase in students needing meals, every student that has needed a meal has been able to get one.

“I’ve yet to have anybody say that they weren’t able to get a meal,” said Kilgore.