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Lunch lady faces fine for feeding poor kids in Pennsylvania

August 17, 2012|By Rene Lynch

Lunch lady Angela Prattis thought she was just doing God's work, handing out free lunches to hungry children in a Pennsylvania neighborhood. But even acts of altruism, it seems, must bow to red tape.

National outrage has erupted after Prattis found herself running afoul of Chester Township zoning laws and threatened with a $600 fine if she continued, according to NBC10 Philadelphia.

Moreover, she faces a $1,000 fee if she wants to continue performing her good deeds, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The lunch lady, who is also a youth pastor at her church, was told that she needed a township zoning permit continue to hand out lunches outside her home. And the approval process requires an official hearing. And that hearing would cost her $1,000, the Inquirer reported.

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.

The stalemate has prompted an outpouring of support. So far, several in the community offered to cover the $1,000 bill. She has received dozens of  calls from others offering to do whatever is needed to keep the lunch lady on the job, and a law firm has also offered to represent her for free.

Prattis told the Inquirer that she's grateful for the offers but has not taken any money yet because she's still hoping authorities will waive the fee.

The Inquirer said it spoke to the township's acting solicitor, Murray Eckell, who acknowledged that the incident is giving local government a black eye. But he said the township is in a difficult position.

"Suppose a child gets hurt on her property," Eckell was quoted as saying. "Will the family sue the township? What if somebody gets food poisoning?

"What she is doing is commendable.... 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.

The Chester Township manager did not return a phone call seeking comment by the time this article was posted online.

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Join Rene Lynch on Google+ and Twitter. Email: rene.lynch@latimes.com

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