Food distributor to northwestern Minnesota schools cancels contract due to driver shortage

After a food distributor that delivers food to 57 school districts in northwestern Minnesota had to cancel their contract due to a lack of drivers, school officials had to find new ways to get food deliveries to their cafeterias.

At the beginning of this school year Food Services Manager for the Thief River Falls School District, Jessica Snoozy, was notified that the food distribution company that delivers food to her schools had to end their contract.

"[It was] very disruptive, especially being at the beginning of the school year when things are already chaotic," Snoozy said.

According to Assistant Commissioner Daron Korte with the Minnesota Department of Education, the distribution company, Cash-Wa, informed schools that they could not hire enough drivers to make deliveries from the centralized USDA food warehouse in the Twin Cities to districts in northwestern Minnesota.

"Basically they didn’t have enough drivers to supply all of their routes," Korte said. "They said ‘we just don’t have the capacity to make all of those deliveries.’"

This left some schools scrambling to find new distributors to drive the USDA allocated food from the warehouse in Newport, MN to the northern districts. Those districts also relied on their previous distributor to order food beyond the allocated USDA basics.

"We have heard of schools having to go out to make Costco runs, Restaurant Depot runs," Korte said.

"We’ve never dealt with anything like this before," Snoozy said.

The Thief River Falls School District was able to secure a new contract with a new distribution company that is able to deliver goods from the warehouse in the Twin Cities as well as provide options for schools to purchase other goods.

Schools that were not able to find new distribution companies got some help from the state. Korte said the state put out bids looking for new distributors and was able to fill the positions.

He said a long-term solution to the problem could be getting more USDA distribution warehouse sites. He says the department is currently applying to open several more warehouse locations around the state so districts don’t have to find companies willing to make the long-distance deliveries.