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Lunch at the Library: Volunteers
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Recruiting, Training, and Working with Volunteers

Offering a library meals program with complementary literacy and reading programming will be time-intensive, particularly if your program takes place during the busy summer months. A team of responsible, well-trained, volunteers is invaluable to ensuring the success of your efforts.

"The teen volunteers were vital. They were trained and staff let them take the lead in setting up the room and serving meals while the Youth Services Librarian worked the door greeting each family."

"I did not anticipate the strength of commitment that this project would engender... the people who worked together really formed a team. More teens then joined through word of mouth because of the positive environment (they came to work and hang out with their friends."

Volunteer Planning

  • If your library has a Volunteer Coordinator, ensure that this person is involved in planning your library meals program from the start.
  • Think about how many volunteers you will need. Calculate the number of hours that will be spent each day setting up, serving meals, offering programs, cleaning and wrapping up. Determine the number of volunteer shifts you have to fill each day to complete all tasks. Multiply this by the number of days a week you are running your program to get a sense of how many volunteer slots you have to fill on a weekly basis. As a rule of thumb, one Food Bank recommends three volunteers per 50 kids served.
  • Does your library require that volunteers are fingerprinted and undergo background checks? If so, ensure that you have budgeted ample time and money for this.
  • Plan ahead for your volunteer training. Ask your meal provider for its volunteer training schedule and book your volunteers for a training. If you have a large team of volunteers, consider asking your meal provider to come to the library to provide training. This can also help you introduce the library to your meal provider.

Volunteer Recruitment

  • Volunteers can come from a variety of sources. Some suggestions include: service learning programs at local high schools; local colleges and universities; local faith-based organizations; your local Junior League; look in house at your teen advisory council or library docents; or use your library’s Volunteer Match account. If you need assistance in setting up or working with a VolunteerMatch account, please contact Carla Lehn at the California State Library.
  • Your library meals program must follow federal USDA regulations. It is essential that your volunteers are responsible, well trained, and prepared to implement the rules and treat the participating families well. Correspondingly, it can be easier to work with fewer volunteers who commit to regular volunteer hours during the summer, than a larger group who each only come in once or twice. You may want to require that each volunteer sign up for at least 5 shifts during the summer.
  • Consider recruiting for a volunteer Volunteer Coordinator (as well as a team of volunteers) to help train, schedule, and work with your volunteers.
  • Provide potential volunteers with information on why the library is offering a meals program so that they can clearly and easily see the value of the contribution they are making.
  • Vounteer Information Form used by Sacramento Public Library as part of their volunteer recruitment efforts.

Volunteer Job Descriptions

The following job descriptions have been created by Carla Lehn at the California State Library and are based on documents used at Oakland Public Library.

Summer Lunch at the Library Volunteer

Summer Lunch at the Library Volunteer Coordinator

Lunch at the Library Team Member (tailored to teen volunteers but relevant to volunteers of all ages). Created by Susan Bloom, Sacramento Public Library.

Volunteer Training

  • Ensure that your volunteers complete any training that is offered and provided by your meal provider. Do not rely on just one or two people taking the training. If those people become unavailable you will be left with no trained volunteers to serve the meals.
  • Ensure that all volunteers are familiar with the federal USDA regulations that all meal sites must follow.
  • Make sure your volunteers are trained to be welcoming and friendly to the families who participate.
  • Make sure you orient your volunteers to your library service in general as well as to the meals program. This way, they will be ready to provide information about the library to participating families and can serve as library advocates out in the community.
  • Ensure that volunteers are equipped to implement federal regulations sensitively, e.g. have been coached on a thoughtful way to enforce the regulation that prohibits adults from eating from a meal that has been served to a child or teen.

Volunteer Tasks

Volunteer tasks may include the following:

  • Prepare the meal service site each day.
  • Take the temperature of the food when it is delivered.
  • Serve the meals
  • Count the number of meals served. Some meal providers give their sites a clicker for this purpose. Ideally you will have one person who is responsible only for counting meals served to ensure the accuracy of the count.
  • Clean up at the end of the mealtime (this may need to be done quickly if the room is required for a program or meeting immediately following the food service)
  • Record all information required by the meal service provider
  • Monitor that all federal regulations are being adhered to
  • Offer complementary literacy and reading programs to families
  • Hand out evaluation surveys weekly.

Some volunteer tasks might take place outside the meal times. For example, volunteers might help you create materials promoting the program, plan your volunteer schedule, or compile evaluations.

Volunteer Rewards and Benefits

  • Be sure to thank and acknowledge your volunteers both publicly and privately. You might include a thank you in the library newsletter or blog. Some volunteers appreciate a thank you event and others do not. If you think it is appropriate at your site, consider holding a small event to acknowledge the significant contribution your volunteers made to the success of your program.
  • The Summer Lunch at the Library can be a valuable youth development program. If you are working with teen volunteers, talk with them about how the skills they are developing and using by participating in this project can help them in the future, e.g. in the workplace or on college applications. Consider holding exit interviews with teen volunteers to discuss what they contributed to the program, how they have enhanced their skillsets, and how they can use these skills in the future. 


Lunch at the Library is a project of the California Library Association and California Summer Meal Coalition and is funded by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Photo: YMCA of Silicon Valley.