Fired cafeteria worker hadn't charged student's account for 3 months, employer says

A school cafeteria worker who was fired for giving lunch to a student who couldn't pay for it had not charged the student's account for several months, according to a statement released by her former employer.

Bonnie Kimball was an employee of the vendor Café Services that provides food for Mascoma Valley Regional High School in Canaan, New Hampshire. Kimball was fired from her job in March after the male student told her he didn't have the $8 to pay for items on his lunch tray, and she let him take the food for free.

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

Even though the student paid his tab the next day, Kimball was still fired. She had worked in the lunchroom for five years prior to her firing.

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

The president of the food service company that Kimball worked for said in a statement this week that a student gets a lunch regardless of whether or not they can pay.

In a posting on YouTube, Fresh Picks Cafe President Brian Stone said that Kimball didn't follow procedures and told her manager she charged the student's account, when she had not.

“In this situation the student was not charged for any part of the meal, the main lunch or four additional items,” Stone said in a statement. “The employee told the manager that she charged the student’s account for the lunch, but the manager later confirmed there were no charges on the account, so what the employee said was not true.”

Stone said that every student in the line gets a lunch, “so there was no reason for her to not charge the account.”

Her former employer added that the student hadn't been charged for anything for the previous three months.

“Now that there is a change in staff, this student’s account shows regular activity,” Stone said. “This employee was dishonest and was let go for not following procedures.”

Kimball's firing sparked an outpouring of support from the public, including award-winning chef José Andrés.

In a statement, the school district 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 last week to continue using the company for another year, despite the controversy involving Kimball.

The Valley News reported that the alleged firing 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 raised more than $8,000. 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."

This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.