The COVID-19 pandemic has created a series of supply issues for Concordia College’s dining services, putting an extra strain on staff and students.
When the first official U.S. lockdown for COVID-19 took place in March of 2020, stores could not keep up with demand for products such as hand sanitizer, masks and disinfectant wipes. The current shortage faced by Concordia, and schools at large, is different. Caused by lockdowns, a labor shortage and logistical issues, the entire global supply chain has been disrupted, causing delays and shortages across the globe.
Duane Melquist, the operations supervisor of Concordia dining services, oversees the school’s custodial, warehouse and delivery staff, as well as operating the food service management program and tracking inventory.
He said COVID-19 had been creating issues for Concordia. In 2020, the pandemic “flipped everything upside down,” and several new regulations were put in place for student safety. Students could not eat in the dining hall and Anderson Commons switched from self-service to food being served by the staff, said Melquist.
Dining services were experiencing some supply issues as well. Melquist said the school could not get a hold of pork, due to a series of outbreaks at meat supply factories, meaning they had to turn to alternatives. Turkey became a more accessible substitute, but that put new strain on the dining staff as they had to change menus to work with the inventory they had.
Danielle Ginther, a student manager who spends most of her time working at The Coffee Stop, echoed this sentiment. She said lack of inventory and staff has made it difficult for them to provide for the students.
“Like most other places, we’re experiencing a large shortage of workers. Both the Korn Krib and The Coffee Stop close two hours earlier than they used to and when they are open it’s a lot harder to meet demand,” Ginther said.
Jason Giffey, assistant director of dining services, said there had been days when staffing shortages made the situation tough, but praised the ability of workers to step up and continue to get the job done.
Ginther said Concordia had seen a lot of turnover among its vendors. The worker shortage extended to companies Concordia has contracts with and they had been unable to secure vendors due to these turnover rates. For dining services, this meant difficulties in contacting companies and placing orders, resulting in delays or product not coming.
“In the Korn Krib especially, it’s been hard. Popular products from Pepsi and Coca-Cola haven’t been coming in and that’s disappointing for students as it’s something they enjoy,” said Ginther.
Ginther said Bubbl’r, a brand of sparkling water, is in high demand among students, but they could not guarantee when it will be in stock.
The most difficult thing to keep in stock was milk, according to Ginther. At the beginning of the 2021 semester, Concordia had not secured a permanent milk vendor, and The Coffee Stop especially was struggling with the lack of a crucial supply.
Ginther said these product shortages were especially prevalent at the beginning of the school year but had been resolved by the start of spring semester.
Students have also noticed the effect shortages had on dining services. “Last year they simplified the options at Anderson quite a bit,” said Michael Schoenbeck, a junior at Concordia. It is difficult to cook, clean and serve students in an environment that is dealing with a lot of issues because of the pandemic, Schoenbeck continued.
Schoenbeck said it seemed like dining services had improved this year and returned to normal in a lot of ways.
Giffey said what makes the pandemic difficult is the uncertainty. “The hardest part adapting is the minimal notice and the unknowns, staffing, product supplies and events being canceled short notice.” Dining services have to respond quickly to these problems as they appear and there is not always an easy solution.
It is not just Concordia that is affected by these shortages either. In addition to serving the students, dining services cater food to the other schools in the Fargo-Moorhead area and work with “Meals-on-Wheels” to provide food to the elderly community. This means that dining services are responsible for more than just the well-being of Concordia students, but people all over town who rely on them for food.
“We put out a lot more food in the community than we do here on campus,” said Melquist. When these shortages happen everything “doesn’t stop, we just find an alternative,” he continued.
Melquist has been optimistic that things have begun to improve, and although there are still difficulties, it has been a lot more manageable.