What started years ago as “fun lunch,” a fundraising tool for PTO’s who originally handled 100% of the lunch program, has now become a business. As the first company to blaze the trail in 2008, I learned very quickly what an awe-inspiring undertaking it was, the awesome responsibility of feeding other people’s children, every day, in a school setting.
I understood, once the lunch program becomes a business, we must protect the parents, the PTO, the school, the district, and most importantly the students. Any company throwing their hat in the ring must be doing so in good faith and with the proper coverage and protections to assume the responsibilities that come with operating a lunch program.
What has alarmed me, is some schools are utilizing services from companies which do not have the necessary coverage and protections in place, essentially placing all the liability of the lunch program squarely on the backs of schools, PTO's, parent volunteers and ultimately the district.
Having the lunch company maintain the chain of custody of the food whenever possible, from the time it leaves the source or restaurant until the moment it reaches every student is essential and serves to protect everyone. Further, the lunch company should assume this awesome responsibility and therefore hold, carry and maintain adequate insurance of their own. Piggy backing off of the restaurants insurance is wholly insufficient and leaves enormous risk. The lunch company should also provide professionally trained and licensed staff ONLY with the proper food safety certifications, and other necessary licenses, fingerprinting, trainings, et al.
So let’s get to the original question… When volunteers enter the lunchroom to serve other people’s children, they become part of the chain of custody of the food. The Volunteer Protection Act does cover some things, IF it is a PTO only in house program (not a Lunch Company) and the PTO's should have their own insurance in place to cover their volunteers for anything that isn't covered under the VPA. If instead there is a lunch company providing lunches and they are utilizing volunteers to serve lunches, those parent volunteers are now technically working for the lunch company, not the PTO and are assuming personal liable for a number of things that could occur that are not within their control. Worse, whether the lunch company uses volunteers or not, if they don't carry any of the essential insurance, food sanitation licenses or training, the risks are enumerable and it’s not “fun lunch” anymore, it’s dangerous and leaves, everyone exposed to unnecessary liability.
I'm all for parents being present in the lunchroom. I have two children myself, and used to like to check in to see how the kids were doing in the lunchroom. There are many other ways for parents to be in the lunch room, other than serving lunch and exposing themselves to unnecessary liability.
In the end, our advise is, if you’re in the lunchroom, you should not be working for free, for the lunch company, they should be working for you!