If someone walks in eating a doughnut, Joseph Keffer isn't going to stop them.

But beyond that, the funeral home owner said he hasn't really thought of food service becoming part of a memorial service.

"It's not like families are clamoring to have food at funerals anyway," said Keffer, owner of Keffer Funeral Home in York Township.

But they could.

Late last month, a decision by federal district Judge John E. Jones III lifted a ban on food at funeral homes -- a ban that exists in only four other states.

The decision came after a lawsuit led by West Manchester Township funeral director Ernie Heffner and about 30 other plaintiffs worked to overturn statues that have been in place since the 1960s.

"We have had families request food hospitality -- anything from cookies to

finger sandwiches. It's been uncomfortable to say no because the law hasn't allowed it. We as providers of service should never be in a position to tell a customer no," Heffner said.

The law also made no sense, he said.

"Families never get together for any event without food except during funerals in Pennsylvania," he said. "Yet, if you drive 17 miles down the road (to Maryland), you can have food there because there's no prohibition."

Reaction: But even if it's allowed now, Burg Funeral Home in Red Lion will not be serving food in the service room.


There might be a separate room where drinks and light refreshments are offered, but food does not belong in the room where a pastor is speaking, according to Dawn Burg, co-owner of Burg Funeral Home.

"It's a time for a pastor to help people move past grief," she said. "It's not time to pass around grandma's cookies."

Eileen Koller, owner of Koller Funeral Home & Cremation Center on West Market Street, said light refreshments are all her business can handle.

"We can offer finger foods before and after viewings, but we wouldn't have the room for a big luncheon after a funeral," she said.

John Semmel, owner of Workinger-Semmel Funeral Home on East Market Street, said he would have to make "major adjustments" to his space in order to accommodate food service.

"We're locked in the city, where space is premium. I don't see how we'd have the room to add food service to our offerings," he said.

But Workinger-Semmel does have an upstairs kitchen for families who bring their own snacks or want a cup of coffee, he said.

"We've never served food or had requests to serve food," he said. "A lot of people are eager to get out of funeral homes and aren't in the mood to have food or drinks here."

Other concerns: Michael Gladfelter, owner of Diehl Funeral Home in Mount Wolf, also hasn't received requests for food service and said it would probably just cause headaches.

He imagines bills for having upholstery and carpeting cleaned, following accidents of spilled drinks or oily residue left behind by desserts.

But the bigger question is, "If we're providing meals, will we need to be licensed and fall under the auspice of food inspectors?" he said.

And the answer could be yes if the funeral home cooks food and provides it to the public, according to Nicole Bucher, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Because of the risk of food-borne illness, funeral homes will need a state license if workers there will cook on site and distribute food to funeral guests.

However, if the funeral home uses a caterer, or buys trays of food from grocery stores or other locations, it will not need a license. The caterers and other food providers would already be licensed, she said.

"It just seems unnecessary," Gladfelter said. "We already have fire halls, golf courses and churches in the area that are prepared to do it and love to host these types of luncheons."

He said Diehl Funeral Home is happy to provide families with information about catering services and locations for luncheons, but he doesn't have intentions to offer food service at his business.

"We don't need to be a one-stop shop that offers everything to everybody," he said. "It's impossible to be everything to everybody and do it well."

-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.