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January snow days cost FWCS nearly $23,000 in unused food, unexpected expenses

The district donated some food to local organizations serving the needy

Saturday, February 1, 2014 - 12:01 am

The eight days that Fort Wayne Community Schools closed in January because of severe weather cost the district about $16,000 for food it couldn't use and about $6,800 in unplanned expenses for meals it served when school resumed.

The figures result from just the disruption in the 12,000 elementary school lunches FWCS Nutrition Services normally provides each school day, said Krista Stockman, district public information officer.

FWCS middle schools and high schools have their own kitchens and prepare their own meals, Stockman said. They were able to adjust to weather closings more easily, minimizing food losses.

“In the last 15 years, we've never had a year with eight (weather) closures, and certainly not eight closures in one month,” Stockman said.

The previous high had been six closure days during the 2010-2011 school year.

FWCS is Indiana's second-largest school district, with nearly 31,000 students attending 51 schools.

Most of this month's food losses involved items that Nutrition Services planned to use in elementary lunches the week of Jan. 6-10, Stockman said. Bitter cold and snow forced all local school districts to cancel all five days the first full week of January.

Rather than throw food away, Nutrition Services donated some unused items to the Rescue Mission, 301 W. Superior St., and to the soup kitchen at the former St. Andrew Catholic Church in the 2600 block of New Haven Avenue, Stockman said.

However, those organizations didn't have the capacity to accept and use all of the food FWCS suddenly didn't need, she said.

The biggest loss involved $13,000 for burrito hot pack lunches, which Stockman said may have been scheduled for serving Jan. 6. Nutrition Services also lost $1,500 because it had to dispose of 102 cases of chopped Romaine lettuce.

In addition, it cost an extra $1,600 to salvage what the staff could from the burrito lunch and repack those items in elementary school lunches for other days, she said.

To avoid spoilage of fresh produce it had planned to serve in early January, Nutrition Services used many of those fresh fruits and vegetables in elementary lunches the weeks of Jan. 20-24 and Jan. 27-31, Stockman said. Because fresh produce costs more than canned items, the change pushed the cost of those lunches about $6,800 over budget.

Nutrition Services normally meets a budgeted cost per meal in part by serving fresh produce on some days and less-expensive canned produce on other days, Stockman said. While doing so, it also must ensure lunches meet federal nutrition guidelines.

Nutrition Services, which operates as a self-supporting entity within FWCS, now will have to adjust its spending to get back on budget, she said.

The department's staff does monitor weather forecasts, Stockman said. But they have to prepare food the day before it will be served to students, so they can't wait until morning to see if the weather causes a school closing.

“We can't pack 12,000 lunches on the fly,” she said.