Cafeteria worker fired for giving student lunch won't return

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CANAAN, N.H. (AP) — A company has offered to rehire a New Hampshire school cafeteria worker whom it fired for giving a student lunch for free , but she isn't interested.

Bonnie Kimball said she was terminated March 28 by Fresh Picks, a vendor that supplies food to the Mascoma Valley Regional High School in Canaan. It came a day after she gave a student lunch, even though he couldn't pay for it.

Kimball says that when the student's account showed no funds, she quietly told him "tell (your) mom you need money," and provided a lunch. She said a manager just asked what was on the boy's plate and walked away. The next morning the student's bill was paid.

"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," Kimball told The Associated Press. "I know they would have brought the money the next day. The bill was going to get paid."

A spokeswoman for the Manchester-based company said Friday that an employee it did not name violated school and company policy and that a district manager had terminated the person. But the company said it had offered to rehire the employee, provide her back pay and would "work with the school district to revise policies and procedures regarding transactions."

The school district, in a statement, said it talked with the company about the firing of what it described as a part-time cafeteria worker and would review its food service policies to ensure conflicts between the district and its vendors don't come up in the future. It also said it requested the right to be released from its contract with the company next year, which would open the process to other bidders.

"First and foremost, it is our goal to do right by our families, community, students and employees at the Mascoma Valley Regional School District," Superintendent Amanda Isabelle said. "The events of these past few weeks and the feedback I have received from parents has given me considerable pause."

Kimball, who has four grandchildren in the school district, said she had no intention of returning to her old job and accused the company of only offering to rehire her "so that it could keep its contract." The Mascoma Regional School Board voted Tuesday to continue using the company for another year, despite the controversy involving Kimball.

The Valley News reported that the alleged firing has angered Kimball's co-workers, some of whom quit in protest. Parents at the school also said they were upset by Kimball's sudden departure and demanded she be rehired. Some even started a GoFundMe campaign for her that had raised more than $5,000 by Friday night. Kimball said she had also received an outpouring of support on her Facebook page, including from a U.S. Navy SEAL and a professional football player.

"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, adding the support since then "makes me feel good."

"Lord, all the support and TV stations," she added of the interview requests. "I am like 'Why are they contacting me?' I'm still in awe."

The incident comes as schools across the country are struggling to deal with how to address students who can't pay for their lunch. A 2011 survey found that a majority of districts had unpaid lunch charges and that most dealt with it by offering students alternative meals. Last month, federal lawmakers also introduced "anti-lunch shaming" legislation to protect students with unpaid lunch bills. The USDA also discourages practices that stigmatize students, but allows districts to set their own policies.

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