Lunch lady Angela Prattis thought that no one would mind if she took her work home, so she spent some of her time handing out free meals to hungry kids in Chester, Pennsylvania. Prattis was participating in a program to feed children over summer vacation while they didn't have access to school lunchrooms. But she found out that no good deed goes unpunished — at least by local governments — when she received a letter from the Township council that threatened a $600 fine if the she continued the free lunch program without obtaining a proper permit.
The program, which is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and administered by the archdiocese of Pennsylvania, has been running since local schools wrapped up their spring semesters earlier this summer. Prattis' role was to hand out the boxed lunches dropped off by the archdiocese to nearly 60 children around the neighborhood. In addition to threatening to fine her for violation of zoning laws, the letter from the Township also informed her that she'd need to obtain a permit to continue running it.
And obtaining it wouldn't be simple or cheap. According to the Los Angeles Times, the process required an official hearing and a payment of a $1,000 fee.
It was enough to raise questions about whether Prattis could continue her work. She is a married mother of three and also a trained volunteer with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Nutritional Development Services, which supplies the food she gives out, according to the Inquirer.
The food is paid for by the state, according to the Inquirer, which also reported that program representatives had inspected and approved Prattis' operation.
Once Prattis went public with her plight, messages of support and offers of help came pouring in. A few neighbors even offered to cover the $1,000 fee so that Prattis could continue handing out the lunches uninterrupted. In addition to general offers of help, Prattis was also contacted by a law firm that offered to represent her for free at the hearing and guide her through the permit application process.
At the moment, Prattis is declining all offers of financial help with the hope that the township will see the light and agree to waive the fee in this particular case. In response to queries, the township's acting solicitor Murray Eckell expressed sympathy with Prattis' plight and admitted that the whole kerfuffle was giving the local government a heck of a black eye. Yet, as he pointed out, it would be irresponsible of the town not to take steps to protect itself in case something like an injury or food poisoning happens on Prattis' property, with Chester potentially finding itself a party to a lawsuit.
"What she is doing is commendableâ¦. But if we don't have laws, there's chaos. It's a difficult situation for the township to be in."
NBC10 says Prattis plans to attend the next township meeting in a bid to clear up the controversy, but until then she plans to continue feeding children.