2012-06-14 / Local & State

Rule Change To Allow Food At Pa. Funeral Services

By Tom Knapp



LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) – It might be as simple as a tray of cookies by the door. It could be as elaborate as a well-stocked buffet in another room.

Either way, local funeral directors are grappling with the question of food service at memorial services.

“It’s a fairly new idea here,” said Murray Miller, a director at Reynolds Funeral Home in Quarryville. “What direction we end up going is still being discussed.”

The discussion follows a decision by Judge John E. Jones III. In May the federal district judge threw out a selection of regulations governing funeral homes in Pennsylvania. His decision followed a suit by York County funeral director Ernest Heffner and more than 30 other plaintiffs seeking to overturn statutes that have been on the books for decades.

A key element of the ruling lifts a ban on food during funeral services – a ban enforced in only four other states.

“It is a nationwide trend. This is not something new to the country,” said Chad Snyder, a director at Charles F. Snyder Funeral Home. “With this law passed, we are able to do what the rest of the country already does.”

Snyder Funeral Home has plans to move ahead immediately with food service options at its three locations in Lancaster, Lititz and Millersville.

“We can serve the family’s favorite snacks, or we can bring in sandwiches and desserts,” Snyder said. “It can be very casual and light, or it can be a full meal.”

They will not prepare food on-site, he said, but will contract with third-party businesses for food services.

“It can be anything from serving cookies during a viewing to a luncheon afterward,” Snyder said.

“And we are glad. This will definitely help families keep things convenient.”

Benjamin Siar, funeral director at Gundel Funeral Homes in Lancaster and Conestoga, said the food ban “has been an issue” in the past.

“It has been a shame, some of the limitations that we've had,” he said.

Some of the “nuances” of the regulations imposed by the state Board of Funeral Directors “didn't make a lot of sense,” Siar said.

“In the past, we were allowed to have a designated room to serve coffee and maybe a tray of cookies. But you had to have the room approved, and you had to stay in that room. If you walked through a door with a cookie in your hand, you were breaking the law.”

So far as food service at Gundel is concerned, “it’s still a little undetermined,” Siar said.

“I'm thinking about it. But if someone came to me and asked to have a luncheon after a funeral, I’d probably be calling the state board with some questions,” he said.

“For instance, I’m not sure you’re allowed to have food in the same room as the body of the deceased.”

But food service does make sense, Siar said.

“It would be nice to be able to provide that, as a onestop shop,” he said. “It’s sort of a nuisance to go to a funeral home, then to a cemetery, then a luncheon across town. Having the funeral, followed by lunch and the cemetery afterward would be very nice.

Jonathan Sheetz, supervisor of Sheetz Funeral Home in Mount Joy, said he is unlikely at this time to begin offering food service.

“We had an interest in setting up a separate facility” for food service, he said. “Unfortunately . that didn’t work out because of zoning issues.”

Offering food in the funeral home itself “might be more difficult,” he said.

Besides, Sheetz added, “the decision is so recent it could always be overturned.”

“It’s a little bit early to tell how things will go,” Miller agreed. “We have not had a lot of requests.

“It’s been more of a thing where families gather after a funeral – at a church, another facility or even at their homes. It hasn’t really been a thing where people have requested food at the funeral home,” he said.

“It might be more normal in other parts of the country, but in this state it hasn’t been – at least not in Lancaster County.”

At Kearney A. Snyder Funeral Home in Lancaster, Jeremy DeBord also was cool to the idea.

“As of this time, we don’t have any plans to pursue it,” he said. “We’re going to continue to do what we do best and allow the food industry to do what they do best.”

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