School fires dinner lady for giving $8 lunch to student who could not pay, local news says

Community rallies behind dinner lady who had worked at school for five years

Bonnie Kimball said she was following specific orders from her employer for how to help students who cannot pay for food
Bonnie Kimball said she was following specific orders from her employer for how to help students who cannot pay for food

A cafeteria worker in Canaan, New Hampshire, was fired after a supervisor caught her violating her employer's policy. Her offence? Giving food worth $8 to a student with no money in his account.

Bonnie Kimball had worked for five years serving lunch to the teens at Mascoma Valley Regional High, who she called "another family," the Valley News reported.

The contract to provide lunch to the school's 326 students was expiring. A competitor was touring the facilities on 28 March, and Ms Kimball's employer had extra managers on hand.

Ms Kimball saw that a student's account was empty and let him keep his food, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported. She also asked him to have his mother add money to the account. The next day, he paid his lunch bill. But later that day, Ms Kimball was called in by a manager who had witnessed her act of leniency and fired, she told the paper.

"It was my life for five years. I went and I took care of another family," she told the Valley News. "You don't just lose a family member, be OK and move on."

Ms Kimball said that she was following specific orders from her employer, Manchester, New Hampshire-based Café Services. In February, she told the Union Leader, her direct supervisor had instructed her to let students take food, even if they could not pay, and "discreetly tell them" to refill their accounts.

In an email to The Washington Post, the school district's superintendent, Amanda Isabelle, declined to comment on the employment decisions of Café Services, but wrote that "district policy is to make healthy nutritious school meals available to every child whether or not the child has sufficient funds to cover the cost of the meal."

The chair of the Mascoma Valley Regional School Board, Cookie Hebert, told the Union Leader that "it was her understanding" that students who cannot pay should be given the lunch of the day and not a la carte items, which Ms Kimball gave the boy 28 March.

Earlier this week, the school board voted to renew Café Services' contract, the Union Leader reported.

Community members have rallied behind Ms Kimball, with the Valley News reporting that two of her co-workers have resigned in protest.

In a letter to the editor of the Valley News, Donlon Wade, a student counsellor for the Mascoma Valley Regional School District, hailed Ms Kimball and her fellow "kitchen ladies" as "quiet heroes [who] have performed the daily ritual of cheerfully preparing and serving good meals to children in a poor district of great need."

In a written statement, Café Services told The Post that "the information as reported is untrue," but did not specify what previous reports had gotten wrong.

The contractor declined to comment on Ms Kimball's firing, citing confidentiality concerns, but wrote, "As an organisation we are acutely aware of the prevalence of food insecurity and take pride in being able to provide meals for those in need."

Christina Moodie, whose son attends the high school, told the Valley News she thinks Ms Kimball should get her job back.

"These guys really took care of our kids. They put our kids first and their focus was really our kids," Ms Moodie told the Valley News. "I know Bonnie went above and beyond for the kids."

The Washington Post

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