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Local School Districts Say Supply Issues Led To Struggles To Feed Students

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The Seamless Summer program funded by the federal government is an initiative that was started during the pandemic. It provides free breakfast and lunch for students across the country.

School districts in Northern California have implemented the program, which gives students, regardless of income bracket, access to free meals.

The Sacramento City Unified School District told CBS13 it's having serious issues getting enough food to feed students. The district is forced to stockpile any foods they can get their hands on.

"I definitely do take advantage of lunch I get it every day," said Julia Moreno.

She's a student in Sacramento. Her mom Gia relies on the Seamless Summer program to relieve a heavy burden. Without it, her grocery bills skyrocket.

"There's an increase of $200-300 a month. There's been times where it's been tough to manage that. Where you'll have to maybe pay half of a bill until the next month," Gia Moreno said.

So what happens if the program doesn't work the way it's supposed to?

"If we know students are hungry, we know they're not learning in class," said Diana Flores.

Flores is the director of nutrition services for the Sacramento City Unified School District.

"We serve 40,000 meals a day at 80 schools," she said.

But right now, they're struggling to feed all of their students. Since more students qualify for free meals, the demand for food has increased.

Sac City Unified has seen a 35% increase in students eating school meals and they're not alone.

Patterson Joint Unified School district has seen a 15% increase.

Jeff Menge is the assistant superintendent for Patterson Joint Unified.

"It has brought challenges. Some of those being issues with suppliers," Menge said.

Some districts said major food supply companies like Kellogs, General Mills, and Gold Star Foods are experiencing staffing shortages and driver shortages.

"Almost everything we serve, we've had issues getting," Menge said.

Milk and produce top the list of foods they can't get.

"We're at the mercy of vendors where we're having to constantly re-do our monthly or weekly menus just because it's like 'OK, well, we couldn't get this or that or that,' " Menge said.

Students are noticing that their lunch trays look different.

"It's more of fruits and vegetables and what they give on the side," said Julia Moreno.

Patterson Joint Unified is working on securing space to stockpile food—something Sac City Unified is already doing.

"So we know two-three months from now we can still serve our kids. Produce has been troubling for us believe it or not. We've struggled getting carrots in a bag. It's very concerning," Menge said.

Districts are turning to local distributors for faster food delivery, but in the meantime, parents are hoping food won't run out.

"There are kids who are in a position where they're not eating. It's heartbreaking. The program is so beneficial to so many kids," Gia Moreno said.

The nationwide program is set to expire at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, but California plans on extending the initiative indefinitely—an added pressure for districts moving forward.

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