Lunch lady Angela Prattis found herself between a rock and a $1,000 hard place after Chester Township officials told her she was not allowed to feed hungry kids in her neighborhood.
Not in her R3 residential zone, anyway. Over the summer, the lunch lady has been stationed on her property in Toby Farms, handing out lunches to as many as 60 neighborhood kids who benefit from their schools’ free lunch programs during the academic year. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia provides the lunch lady with meals of sandwiches, fruit and milk, which are funded by the state. According to the Christian Science Monitor, about 450 people participate in the program by handing out food to hungry kids in the Philadelphia area.
Chester Township Council Chairman Stanley Kester, who was notified about Prattis’ actions by a resident, said that zoning laws would mean a $600-per-day fine each day Prattis handed out lunches. The alternative? The lunch lady would have to pay a $1,000 fee for an ordinance variance.
“I’m not stopping. These kids are hungry. I’m not tearing down the community,” Prattis told the Daily Times of Delaware County, Penn. “Last Friday, I had 20 children walk to my house in the pouring rain for lunch, and at 2 p.m. they came back for a snack. Tell me this program is not needed.”
Fines have not yet been levied against the lunch lady, according to Examiner.com. She will be allowed to give out lunches until Aug. 24, when state funding ends for the year. However, the lunch lady would not be allowed to continue next summer without getting the $1,000 zoning hearing necessary for a variance.
“I don’t think the zoning laws apply here,” Prattis said. “If I was selling food or cooking food, I could see how it would apply. But we shouldn’t have to pay anything, and if the ordinance does exist, it should be waived for someone who is feeding children.”
Kester maintains that the law is necessary to prevent the township being held liable for any “negative outcomes” of the lunch lady’s program. This would include kids getting food poisoning from one of the meals distributed in the residential zone, for instance, according to the Daily Times.
“It’s a township law,” Kester told the Daily Times. “We are not picking on her because she’s feeding kids. It’s an honorable thing to do. But she can’t do it there.”
Prattis adopted her lunch lady role several years ago, distributing meals at the Church of the Overcomer in Trainer, Penn. She moved the operation to her home this year.