Parent Group Launches a Lunch Program


Offering hot meals at a low cost nourishes students and also turns a profit.

by Heather Larson


Until a couple of years ago, Our Lady of the Angels School in Worcester, Mass., wasn’t able to provide many lunchtime options. Submarine sandwiches were offered twice a week, and most students brought a sack lunch every day. But when the Parent Organization replaced brown bag lunches with a hot meal program, it became an unexpected fundraiser for the group.

“Now we have kids buying their lunches five days a week,” says Lori Laplante, who had served as PO treasurer when the lunch program began. “Our biggest motivation was to provide nutritious, well-balanced meals to the children at Our Lady of the Angels every day. The financial success of the program and its ability to be self-sustaining was an added bonus.”

Parents had consistently asked for a daily hot lunch program, and two years ago the PO board decided to dig in and make the program a reality. In June 2006, members voted to allocate $1,000 to develop it. That summer was filled with consultations with a nurse and registered dietician, research on the components of area public schools’ lunch programs, planning, and scheduling.

“As far as the nutritional guidelines go, while we were putting the program together, we met with a retired public school cafeteria worker as well as looking at the current public school menus. This enabled us to create a well-balanced menu all the parents were very receptive to,” Laplante explains. “We try to provide multiple choices of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with all of our lunches.”

The lunch program is almost entirely volunteer-supported. Each weekday, two parents prepare and serve the meals from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. A third person shops for the week’s groceries at a warehouse club store. More than 40 people are expected to volunteer this academic year, many of them several different times. School parent Mary Cozza runs the program as a paid coordinator; two on-call paid assistants, also parents, are available should a volunteer have to bow out.

The school doesn’t have a very big kitchen and has no room for an industrial-size dishwasher, so lunches are served on disposable paper plates. PO members watch for sales and stock up on paper products when the price is right.

To minimize hassle in the cafeteria, parents prepurchase voucher coupons. Each lunch is $2 for preschoolers and 1st graders, and $3 for students in graders 2-8. (The price is based on portion size.) Even at those prices, the PO makes $4,600 a month on the hot meal program. “We have been able to eliminate all our other fundraisers, except for the magazine sales,” Laplante says. “We kept the magazine fundraiser because it was the most profitable [after the lunch program] and because people always ask for it.”

Parent leaders surveyed the school’s families last year to find out what they thought; more than 90 percent said they would participate again this year, and 98 percent liked the menu choices. Even the teachers have been receptive—some of them buy vouchers to use for their own lunchtime meals.

“Our PO’s motivation is to provide the very best for our kids. When that is your goal, everything basically falls into place,” Laplante says. “Having the backing of the administration and faculty is a huge help, too.”

The Group
Our Lady of the Angels PO, Worcester, Mass.

School size: 288 students, grades preK-8
Annual earnings: $64,000
Fundraisers: Hot lunch program, annual magazine drive
Mission statement: To promote and strengthen the positive relationship between the parents, teachers, and school administration through collaboration in meeting the educational, emotional, spiritual, and health needs of all Our Lady of the Angels’ students and [through] fundraising activities.

Hot Lunch Program
Nutritious meals are offered daily for students and also raise money for the parent group.

Tasty cuisine: Lori Laplante, who was PO treasurer for the past two years and part of the lunch program startup team, says that pasta and grilled cheese sandwiches remain the most profitable and popular meals. Other favorites include chicken nuggets, pizza, hot dogs, sub sandwiches, and hot soups in winter.

Options available: Everyone who buys a lunch receives the same main item, but often there’s a choice in side dishes. With chicken nuggets, for example, kids can choose applesauce or carrot sticks. Because of food costs, some lunches end up costing the PO money, but in the end it balances out.

Dining in: The PO prides itself on parent involvement, and often parents just show up at lunchtime, don gloves, and help serve and clean up. These are parents who have not been scheduled to volunteer that day, but they’re always welcome and put to work.


# Lisa Bennett 2016-02-07 15:40
We've been using our lunch program as a fund raiser for years now, I took over a couple of years ago as chair. One of the schools in our area makes about $80,000 a year which funds most of our programs.

The only problem we really had was collecting the funds, we use myfooddays to process the orders as paper slips were killing our volunteers!


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