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Labor shortage hits local school cafeteria, makes serving lunch a struggle

The Prior Lake-Savage Area School District says it's down an unprecedented 19 workers in the Child Nutrition Services Department.

SAVAGE, Minn. — It's no secret that supply chain disruptions are leading to many shortages, including right in our own school cafeterias.

At Prior Lake-Savage Area schools, up to some 6,000 lunches are served every day.

Up until Monday, that was something parent Sarah Barbera had never done before. 

"Oh gosh, never, no," said Barbera. "This has been very eye-opening and wonderful."

She's one of 124 parents who are volunteering for 220 lunch slots in the next month that would otherwise be filled with permanent cafeteria workers. 

"For me, it was just one small way I could help out the staff when I know they're so desperate and in need of help in the kitchen," said Barbera.

The Director of Child Nutrition Services Department, Emily Malone, says it has 19 unfilled positions across the district in that department alone.

It's a deficit she calls a "crisis".

"By the end of August I was pretty sure we were going to be in a unique situation that I hadn't experienced before," said Malone. "We're not unique though, I think that's happening nationwide."

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Across the country, the problems stretch from not just labor but to food shortages, as well. It was worsened, in part, by the pandemic. 

"Anybody that was planning on retiring, retired. Anybody planning on making a life change, made a life change, or tried to," said Malone.

Malone says she's stepping up the recruitment process and trying to hire one to two people a week. But the practice is slow.

That is unlike how long it took for parents like Barbera to step up.

'Within a matter of hours, 95% of the slots were filled," said Malone. "It was such an overwhelming feeling of gratitude."

While all of the volunteer lunch spots are filled, Malone says she may very well still need help after Thanksgiving, especially if the hiring struggle continues.

The district says the starting pay of a cafeteria worker is $16.50 an honor and there are other benefits.

If you're at all interested, you can click here for a link to all the positions that are available.

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