DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Parents of students in the Douglas County School District volunteered this week to help its schools keep their lunch service operating efficiently as a nationwide labor shortage continues to affect their staffing levels. Parents take on temporary positions to keep lines moving quickly and giving students more time to eat lunch.

“I want to do my part to try and make sure that we can all keep it flowing in the schools,” said Karina Millar, a DCSD parent volunteering at Rocky Heights Middle School. “It’s new for me and you know, I love it, I love being here with the kids as well. So whatever we can do to help out.”

Millar’s children are at RHMS and other schools in the district. She helped get students through the cashier line on Wednesday so they have more time to eat their lunches, socialize and get time outside before their next class. It’s a natural fit for her because she used to work in the restaurant industry.

“There’s a lot of kids that want to go through the line, the more help we have in that, the faster they go through, they get their food, they get outside to burn some energy,” said Chris Cook, principal at Rocky Heights Middle School.

(credit: CBS)

“We’re finally able to get our community back into our school, we have a very tight knit group of parents, of kids, of teachers.”

During the pandemic, the need for social distancing was crucial in education settings. District leaders knew that would not be possible when lunch service returned this school year. By limiting the time students are next to each other in a line, it reduces the chance of a COVID exposure, another reason why parent volunteers are essential at the school.

“We try to get them in and out within 10 or 15 minutes, Tri-County Health (Department) was really good with that,” said Brent Craig, the director of nutrition service for DCSD. “It’s a great opportunity to feed the kids in our district, we love it.”

Parent volunteers do not help with food prep or serve any of the food that would require additional training for safety reasons. They get students checked out or hand out prepackaged food.

“You know it’s a well-oiled machine but they’re clearly short so it’s nice to be able to help out,” Millar told CBS4 on Wednesday. “We’ve just had a challenging year so I really hope that everyone can get in, help out where you can … it’s a lot more fun that I thought it would be.”

Parents have to complete a security screening to work as volunteers. District leaders say while they are grateful for the temporary assistance from their community, they hope more people will apply for open positions to reach a long-term solution. That can be done at www.dcsdk12.org/careers.