Local suppliers struggle to deliver food to Santa Maria-Bonita School District for student meals

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Since implementing its breakfast and lunch distribution effort in the wake of COVID-19 school closures, the number of meals that Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) serves has increased nearly every day, Public Information Officer Maggie White said. 
HIGH DEMAND The Santa Maria-Bonita School District gives out an increasing number of meals each day at its seven distribution sites, said Public Information Officer Maggie White. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA MARIA-BONITA SCHOOL DISTRICT
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA MARIA-BONITA SCHOOL DISTRICT
  • HIGH DEMAND The Santa Maria-Bonita School District gives out an increasing number of meals each day at its seven distribution sites, said Public Information Officer Maggie White.

On March 26, the district served a total of 14,152 m eals from its seven distribution sites.

“We serve a million meals a year, so this is a well-oiled machine,” White said.
But amid local and statewide calls to social distance and self isolate, a few of the district’s suppliers are running low on delivery drivers, making some products harder to get, White said.

“[It’s] not that they don’t exist, but that distribution has been difficult,” White explained.



Les Clark, president of one of SMBSD’s key suppliers, The Berry Man Inc., told the Sun that his business is down to just 20 percent of their original delivery crew, and that they’ve lost 90 percent of their restaurant business since the outbreak.

White said that SMBSD is finding creative solutions to meet suppliers like The Berry Man halfway and keep up with the demand for food.

“Our food service department has really been trying to go straight to the source for food products,” White said.

The district is also directing deliveries to one central warehouse location, and then the food gets “disseminated out to the school sites that are actually making the meals,” White said. “A lot of our items right now are pre-packaged items so that it cuts down not only on the time, but it cuts down on the food handling. Everyone’s wearing gloves that handles the food, but that pre-packaged layer adds another layer of protection.”

White emphasized that the district is still receiving products from their typical suppliers, but that given the situation, the demand is difficult to keep up with.
“All of our very loyal distributors and companies that we work with are doing their best, but just like any industry right now, everybody’s kind of operating on a personnel shoestring,” White said.

For that reason, beginning at the start of this week, White said the district made the decision to consolidate their food distribution sites. Initially, the district was offering meals at every school— 20 total sites. Now they are down to seven sites: Miller Elementary School, Tunnel Elementary School, Rice Elementary School, El Camino Junior High School, Jimenez Elementary School, Fairlawn Elementary School, and Arellanes Elementary School.

Arellanes Elementary is located in Tanglewood, an area just outside Santa Maria city limits, White said. Virtually the only store available to get groceries in Tanglewood is a mini-mart, White said, making the district’s food efforts all the more vital for the small and somewhat isolated community.

White said that at this point, the district is encouraging any student— “whether they’re from our district or the high school district or wherever”— to come take advantage of the free breakfasts and lunches that are being offered.

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