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JeffCo Schools forced to limit hot lunches due to worker shortages

There are 26 schools that have stopped serving regular hot meals and 4 are serving only cold pre-packaged food full time.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colorado — One of the state's largest school districts is starting to cut back on serving hot meals in the cafeteria due to staffing shortages.

Jefferson County Schools sent an email to parents that says some cafeterias may not have hot meals at all. Instead, those schools will serve cold, pre-packaged meals. 

The email outlined three scenarios:

  • In schools with no cafeteria workers, pre-packaged meals will be distributed by other school staff. 
  • In schools with only one worker in the cafeteria, that person will serve pre-packaged meals. 
  • In school with a limited number of cafeteria workers, they will serve hot meals sporadically and cold, pre-packaged meals the other days. Many schools serve both breakfast and lunch to students free of charge.

RELATED: DPS forced to change lunch menus due to delivery delays

Not only are schools places of learning, they are also a source of free meals for kids, especially those from lower income families.

"It's very important," said Azucena Rubio, the parent of students in the Jefferson County School District.

Rubio has kids at Edgewater Elementary School and Jefferson Junior/Senior High School. She said she has already been pushing for more nutritious menus.

"It's just not right, Rubio said. "We need healthier meals. It makes me sad because I know a lot of kids are going to go home hungry to their houses and parents might not have enough food to provide for their kids."

JeffCo Schools would not comment on camera, but did provide information. The school district said it needs 96 more cafeteria workers districtwide. As of Friday afternoon, 22 schools were in scenario three with sporadic hot meals while four schools are in scenario two serving only cold meals full time. However, two of those four schools will be moved to scenario three once staff members come back from medical leave, according to JeffCo Schools.

RELATED: School districts in Denver metro area struggle with staffing shortages

"So, the issue for me is equity," said Joel Newton, the executive director of the Edgewater Collective.

The Edgewater Collective is a community group working with families to improve the school experience. Newton said the district should reshuffle resources to make sure schools with a lot of low income families can still serve hot meals.

"They really need to look at it strategically and say in east central Jefferson County, we want to make sure lunchrooms are up and going," Newton said.

The school district said only two of the 26 schools currently impacted serve mostly low income families. Newton believes that's two too many.

"Hot lunch, most kids look at and say I'll take a long shot at eating that," Newton said. "The stuff that goes into a plastic bag, that's handed to them that's not hot - most of that gets thrown in the trash."

This is an issue that appears will only get worse as long as there's a continued shortage of cooks in the kitchen.

"My son won't eat cold food," Rubio said. "He doesn't like cold food. So, he won't eat it."

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