Parents in Woodbridge, N.J., say their children are being served frozen sandwiches, uncooked hamburgers and expired milk for lunch in school.
Dozens of parents say Chartwells School Dining Services, the school district’s food service provider — has provided lunches the first week-plus of the school years that are sometimes moldy, soggy, frozen or flat-out inadequate.
One mother, Kristi Salzano — who has one son in Woodbridge Middle School and one in Ross Street School — said the school lunches have taken a decided turn for the worse this year.
“They were never great but at least they were edible,” she said. “This year it’s just strange how everyone gets free lunch and the lunches are trash. I wouldn’t even feed it to my animals. The parents are upset — these are our kids and we have a right to be upset.”
Since shortly after the start of the pandemic, around when schools first shut down in 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued waivers that allowed school districts to provide free grab-and-go meals, regardless of a family’s income. Those waivers — which allow school districts to receive reimbursements for the meals they serve — have continued, providing free meals to all kids through June 2022.
Salzano said there have been occasional issues with inedible lunches in previous year, but “it’s never been quite this bad, and so widespread,” she said.
Chartwells didn’t respond to message from NJ Advance Media on Friday but sent the district a letter which was shared with parents.
“We recognize that over the past few days there were a few instances where we didn’t meet the expectations of all of our students and families,” a letter sent to the district Sept. 10 and forwarded to NJ Advance Media on Friday said. “We want you to know that we’ve had a chance to work with the administration to make additional adjustments to our meal service and menus, which will be in place before the end of next week.”
The problems started the first day of school and have continued, parents claim.
“The first day of school my older son got home and said ‘mom I’m starving, I didn’t eat,’” Salzano said.
“I said, ‘what happened?’ He said my turkey sandwich was frozen. And then I go on (Facebook) and come to find the barrage of moms complaining that there were days when their kids didn’t get food or the food they got was inedible.”
Since then Salzano said she has been packing a lunch from home for her kids.
One day this week, the meal offering at an elementary school in the township was goldfish and a muffin, she said.
“There are some children in our district — this is the only good meal they get in a day,” Salzano said. “Their parents can’t afford to send them with lunch and they rely on the school to provide them something.”
Woodbridge Superintendent Dr. Joseph Massimino, meanwhile, said the district is in contact with Chartwells and expects better for its more than 13,700 students in 25 schools across the sprawling township.
“The school district administration and the board of Education are greatly disappointed in Chartwells’ performance to begin the school year,” Massinimi said in a statement emailed to NJ Advance Media. “Once the district was informed of the concerns, the administration immediately reached out to the management at Chartwells to investigate and discuss. Our administration has maintained an open dialogue regarding our expectations and the accountability of our vendors. We look forward to hearing the findings from Chartwells’ inquiry as well as their corrective action plan as soon as possible.”
In 2014, students at a Connecticut high school boycotted Chartwells’ food after photos showed lunches that contained mold, human hair, undercooked meats, insects and or tiny portion sizes.