Recruiting, Training, and Working with Volunteers

Lunch at the Library is a great volunteer opportunity for community members, and particularly teens. Typically, lunch volunteers enjoy participating in the program, master lunch service operations quickly, and volunteer regularly. Often, they are very invested in Lunch at the Library and become program leaders and library supporters.

Responsible and well-trained volunteers are integral to a successful and sustainable Lunch at the Library program. They are the public face of the program to the families you serve and the partners you work with, and they need to ensure that federal regulations are followed and that families feel welcomed and engaged.

Our resources will help you recruit, train, and work with a strong set of Lunch at the Library volunteers.

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. Typically, sites have between 2 and 6 volunteers per day, depending on the size of the site and the number of staff members available. As a rule of thumb, one Food Bank recommends three volunteers per 50 kids served.

  • If your library requires that volunteers are fingerprinted and undergo background checks, ensure that you have budgeted time and resources for this.

  • Plan ahead for your volunteer training. Ask your meal provider for its volunteer training schedule and book your volunteers in 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 including service learning programs at local high schools; local colleges and universities; local faith-based organizations; your local Junior League; community events at which you are promoting library services and opportunities. Also remember to look in house at your teen advisory council or library docents, or use your library’s Volunteer Match account.

  • You many also find that once the program is up and running, volunteers recruit friends to help them, or people ask to help with the program after seeing volunteers in action.

  • California librarians: 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.

  • 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.

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 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.

  • Train volunteers to be welcoming and friendly to the families who participate and 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.

  • Provide training to volunteers on library services and programs beyond the lunch program to help them provide information about the library to participating families and serve as library advocates out in the community. Help volunteers learn skills such as engaging children and teens, talking with families, and playing with children so that they and the participating families feel comfortable in the lunch room.

Volunteer Tasks

Suggested volunteer tasks:

  • 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

  • Engage families in programming offered in the meal service space

  • Sign up families for the summer reading program

  • Talk with families and let them know about library resources and services

  • Hand out evaluation surveys.

  • Create promotional materials.

  • 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.

Teen Development

Lunch at the Library can be a valuable youth development program that provides teens with workforce readiness skills. Suggestions for enhancing the experiences of your teen volunteers:

  • Talk with teens about how the skills they are developing and using by participating in Lunch at the Library can help them in the future, e.g. in the workplace or on college applications.

  • Train teens to lead programs with families who participate in the meal service to further enhance their skill set.

  • Hold 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.

  • Invite human resources staff members from local companies to your teen thank you lunch, to talk with teens about applying and interviewing for jobs.

  • Write letters of recommendation for your teen volunteers.

  • Obtain food handling certificates for your teens that they can use to obtain jobs in the food service industry.

  • If you are able to, find a funding source to provide teens with stipends to support their work on the project.

Check out the YALSA Summer Reading Teen Intern Toolkit for information on working with teen interns during the summer.

“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.”