When a child turned up to school without lunch and had no money to buy any, the cafeteria worker did what any parent would hope for—she fed him, little knowing the furor it would create.
Bonnie Kimball worked for Fresh Picks, which supplied food to the Mascoma Valley Regional High School in Manchester, New Hampshire. Kimball was fired on March 28 for providing “free lunch” to a student, worth $8, as there were no funds in his account. According to the Associated Press, she told the student, “tell (your) mom you need money,” but that wasn’t acceptable to her manager, who eventually fired her.
Kimball had been confident that the student would bring the money in, and it happened—the very next day. “His family is very well known in this town and I can guarantee that if I called his mother, she would have come right in and paid the bill. But I didn’t want to get her out of work. I know they would have brought the money the next day. The bill was going to get paid,” Kimball further added.
The plight of a fired school cafeteria worker in New Hampshire has caught the attention of award-winning chef José Andrés. https://t.co/sM8keCIJsL
— KTLA 5 Morning News (@KTLAMorningNews) May 20, 2019
According to People magazine, Kimball said the district manager told her, “Do you understand what you did was wrong? That was theft.”
Kimball’s plight then went viral, and some of her co-workers quit in protest to support her, as per the Valley News. Meanwhile, others also raised more than US$8,000 via a GoFundMe page in support of the part-time cafeteria worker. In addition, some parents from school also demanded she be rehired.
“When I walked out of the school the day that I got fired, all that was going through my head was that I wouldn’t be able to show my face again. People would think I was a thief,” she said.
She further mentioned that all the support she has received “makes me feel good.”
Her situation also caught the attention of celebrity chef José Andrés, who offered her a job at his non-profit, World Central Kitchen. He tweeted: “The hero is Bonnie Kimball! If she needs a new job we have openings @thinkfoodgroup, if you know her, let her know!”
New Hampshire school cafeteria worker fired for giving food to student who couldn’t pay – WHBQ! The hero is Bonnie Kimball! If she needs a job we have openings at @thinkfoodgroup if you know her, let her know! @NewHampJournal https://t.co/o7JHXgRtn6
— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) May 17, 2019
Chef Andrés was named in the top 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2018. He has in the past offered free hot meals to millions affected by worldwide disasters such as Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Florence, as well as those affected by the aftermath of the California wildfires, and migrants in Tijuana to name a few. In this instance, his compassion was also extended to Kimball.
— New York Post (@nypost) May 20, 2019
Meanwhile, the company that fired Kimball was under pressure to reinstate her after the possibility of losing their contract with the school. They have since offered to re-employ Kimball, with back pay, after claiming she was fired because she violated school and company policy, and they promised to “work with the school district to revise policies and procedures regarding transactions.”
Kimball, however, has refused the offer.
“We didn’t even call it work,” she said to Valley News. “We got up in the morning, we took care of our families and we went to take care of the kids.”
In a statement released by Mascoma Valley Superintendent Amada Isabelle, the school is prepared to accept some responsibility for the action.
“First and foremost, it is our goal to do right by our families, community, students and employees at the Mascoma Valley Regional School District. The events of these past few weeks and the feedback I have received from parents has given me considerable pause,” Isabelle said. “As a school district, we understand the importance of rules and procedures, but upon reflection, I have become sufficiently convinced that it is wrong of us to assume that all the responsibility falls to the vendor, and I do not believe our communities would accept that explanation of this situation. We must be accountable for the people who work in our schools.”
Do you think this cafeteria worker should have been fired for giving a student lunch when he couldn’t afford it? https://t.co/2Mmc8Ecvcu
— WSBT (@WSBT) May 18, 2019
The school will be prepared in the future to provide any student who cannot afford lunch with meals. “The district’s policy regarding free lunches is that students will always be provided with meals, milk, fruits and vegetables,” Isabelle added. “There are, however, items such as ice cream bars, sports drinks and chips that are not provided for free. Those packaged items have a high unit cost to the district and are not viewed as essential nutrition.”
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