University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Communication is key for share table success

Four people sitting in a circle and holding colored speech bubbles

Communication is essential for making your share table a success. How can we reach all groups and individuals who interact with the share table to keep it running smoothly and safely?

It’s absolutely critical to make sure that any staff or volunteers involved in the daily running of the share table fully understand their duties – what they’re responsible for and how to do it.

There are a lot of little details you might not think about! Here are some examples of the tasks involved in setting up and running the share table. These will depend on your share table model and what items you are collecting. For example, if you are not collecting TCS foods, you won’t need hot/cold holding equipment, thermometers, etc.

Potential share table duties (depends on your share table model and logistics):


Set up share table with:

  1. Bins
  2. Signage
  3. Hot/cold holding equipment (e.g., ice packs, insulated bags)
  4. Temperature log and pencil or pen


  1. Ensure items are allowable and packaging is intact
  2. Make sure allergy-aware items go in the proper area
  3. Wash fruit with edible skin/peel between meal periods
  4. Take and record temperatures
  5. Manage student traffic to share table


  1. Break down share table
  2. Discard remaining items OR prep for re-service or food recovery options such as donation

Prior to share table implementation, notify families in writing. Refer to our Parent/Guardian Letter Template for suggested language. If you choose to write your own, make sure to include:

  • Why the school is starting a share table
  • How the share table will work
  • How food safety will be ensured
  • Information on how food allergies will be addressed (Note: We recommend asking parents and guardians to help the child nutrition program maintain safety by reminding their children of foods they can and cannot eat.)
  • A call for volunteers to monitor the share table and/or help with food recovery, if applicable

Share this information in multiple ways. Send as part of the school newsletter and/or as a stand-alone letter, on social media, or through other communication methods.

For students, a primary focus will be how to use the share table so the exchange process goes quickly. Signage will help them quickly identify where to place items. If you are able, we strongly recommend having orientation sessions to explain more of the details.

You might want to start an orientation session by explaining what a share table is and why you’re going to have one. These are some example talking points to get you started:

  1. How hungry we are can vary from day to day. You might be hungrier if you are growing, are active during recess, play sports, or for other reasons.
  2. We can help our friends get more food if they are still hungry.
  3. Keeping food out of the trash can is good for the environment.

Focusing on these reasons can make it more socially acceptable to use the share table. Increased use of the share table will decrease waste. It can also reduce stigma -- students who experience hunger at home may be more likely to use and benefit from the share table. This encourages students to be compassionate and kind. However, be sure they understand they should not take items just to put them on the share table for others. Depending on the age of students and how much time you have, you may expand on these points and/or allow further discussion. You may also discuss with students why they are being asked to put foods on the share table rather than share among friends at the lunch table.

Go over HOW the share table will work:

a. Give a demonstration

b. Review the "rules:“

                When can students place and take items?

                How many trips to the share table can they make?

                How many items can they take when they visit the share table?

c. Address how students with food allergies can use the share table

Allow students to practice using one or more of the following strategies:

a. Role-play putting items on the share table and going up to take items

b. Use games to help students learn what foods and drinks are allowed (e.g., "Jeopardy"-style quiz

show, activity sheets, etc.). Consider working with teachers to incorporate these into classroom

activities. For example, a relay race could be done in P.E.

After your share table has been started and you’ve collected some data, share your story with the community!

Consider including:

  • Food waste reduction numbers and cost savings
  • Quotes from students who have used the share table
  • A call for volunteers to monitor the share table or help with other food recovery initiatives

Check our events calendar periodically for upcoming trainings on share tables. Also, stay tuned for a forthcoming share table toolkit!