Kitchen faces staff shortage and compost complications


Anjali Reddy and Ford Legg

With fewer staff than normal this year due to the nationwide labor shortage, the Upper School (US) Kitchen shifted to disposable plates and cutlery to remove the need for staff at the dishwashing station.

Last year, washing dishes was not an option due to Center for Disease Control and Prevention COVID guidelines, but now that it is available, Dining Services is searching for staff to fill two dishwashing positions and waiting for one staff member to return from medical leave.

The onboarding process involves screening from the school and, because of laws for working in a school kitchen, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The past two years have forced me to be more adaptive. I’m feeling optimistic that we are getting closer to normality with less irregularity, but there’s been a lot of work for me to do with all the changes thrown at us,” Director of Dining Services Keith Jones said.

With fewer staff members, Mr. Jones said the kitchen staff must work longer hours and has had to cut back on some duties such as dishwashing to successfully carry out the required work.

“The staff shortage causes us to work longer days sometimes so that we get all tasks completed for the days to follow,” he said. “We are not able to open all aspects of our lunch operation if we don’t have staff to cover the work required as well.”

The last government pension to all unemployed citizens was expected to run out by early October, and many assumed there would be an influx of people returning to the workforce; however, that has not been the case, specifically in the food industry, Mr. Jones said.

Dining Services plans to return to washable dishes as soon as more staff are available to handle the workload, Mr. Jones said. Missing the opportunity to recycle compostable waste after switching from reusable to disposable plates, the kitchen has reopened the compost bins after initially closing them this fall due to misuse. The hope is that people will make the effort to sort correctly, Mr. Jones said.

“Composting is very difficult due to the use of disposable items getting mixed into the food scraps. It typically ends up with us throwing the compost bags away as trash once they get contaminated with non-compostable materials,” Mr. Jones said. “This has to be done correctly by the community.”

Margie Weathers ’02 started a composting program at the school during her Senior Spring Project (SSP). Over the course of her SSP, she set up several outdoor compost bins through a program run by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection with the help of Mr. Jones and Former Eco Reps Faculty Adviser Laura Tangusso.

In past years, students mostly used Ms. Weather’s system to scrape food scraps into the compost in front of the dishwashing station.

“The composting system worked fairly well in the past because it was set up so that when you brought your dishes to the kitchen to be washed, there were barrels right there into which you would scrape any food scraps,” Ms. Tangusso said. “The system was relatively clear and orderly.”

The hope is to return to the typical composting system and use reusable plates and cutlery once the kitchen staff gains new members, Mr. Jones said.

Meanwhile, Eco Reps Presidents Lilly Carter and Katherine White (both ’22) have some ideas.

“The dream scenario is to get the compost free of disposable items again, and in order to still be COVID safe, get compostable forks, spoons, and cups, so then we can use those, and then just throw your entire thing to the compost,” Lilly said.

In past years, the Eco Reps have engaged students during games and presentations in class meetings about sorting waste into trash, recycling, and compost. In the months to come, the Eco Reps hope to involve students in a similar activity, Lilly said. In addition to these efforts, the Eco Reps hope to create posters on what is recyclable because understanding where waste goes can be confusing, Lilly said.

Keith Jones and the US Kitchen Staff continue to search for more workers while providing meals every weekday.