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 the library has a Volunteer Coordinator, ensure that this person is involved in planning the summer meal program from the start.

  • Think about how many volunteers each site 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 having 3 volunteers per 50 kids served.

  • Budget time and resources for fingerprinting and background checks if this is required by your library.

  • Plan ahead. Ask the meal sponsor for its volunteer training schedule and book in staff and volunteers. If the library will have a large team of volunteers, consider asking the meal provider to come to the library to provide training. This will also help the meal provider get to know the library.

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 draw on resources in house, including the teen advisory council, library docents, or the library’s Volunteer Match account.

  • Once the program is up and running, volunteers often recruit friends to help them, or people ask to help with the program after seeing volunteers in action.

  • Project staff are available to help California library staff set up and work with VolunteerMatch accounts.

  • Library meals programs must follow federal USDA regulations. It is essential that 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. It may be prudent 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 provide leadership and organize volunteers.

  • Provide potential volunteers with information about why the library is offering a meals program so that they can clearly and easily see the value of the contribution they are making.

Volunteer 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 and 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 volunteers complete any training that is offered by the meal provider. Do not rely on just one or two people taking the training. If those people become unavailable, the library will not have any trained volunteers to serve the meals.

  • Ensure that all volunteers know 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. Coach volunteers on thoughtful ways to enforce the regulation that prohibits adults from eating from a meal that has been served to a child or teen.

  • Provide volunteers with training on library services and programs to help them provide information about the library to participating families and serve as library advocates. 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, one person each day will be 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 volunteers both publicly and privately. It is important to remember that some volunteers appreciate a thank you event and others do not. If it’s appropriate, consider holding a small event to acknowledge the significant contribution your volunteers made to the program’s success.

Youth Development and Teen Volunteers

Lunch at the Library is 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 teen volunteers.

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

  • Try 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.

Additional Youth Development Resources

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning‘s mission is to help make evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of education from preschool through the high school years.

The Search Institute is a nonprofit organization that studies and works to strengthen youth success in schools, youth programs, families, and communities. The Search Institute has identified 40 positive supports and strengths that young people need to succeed. Half of the assets focus on the relationships and opportunities they need in their families, schools, and communities (external assets). The remaining assets focus on the social-emotional strengths, values, and commitments that are nurtured within young people (internal assets).

“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.”