Is Mascoma Valley Regional High School lunch lady Bonnie Kimball a hero who went out of her way to feed a hungry child, or is she a liar who flagrantly violated the rules and is now playing games to make herself look good? There’s no easy answer, though some have already reached their own conclusion:
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
Now unemployed, Kimball claims she was terminated from her job with the catering company Café Services last month because she’d allowed a student at the New Hampshire high school to obtain a free lunch for just one day and pay for it the next morning.
“She told the student to make sure to pay the next day. She wasn’t worried as she had known the boy’s parents since they were children, and had no doubt that the $8 lunch tab would soon be taken care of. And the next morning … that’s exactly what happened,” CNN reported last Friday.
Café Services promptly fired her, or so she claims. But according to Brian Stone, the president of Café Services’s school division, the entire story is a fabrication.
The way lunches work at Mascoma Valley is that each student has an account. At lunch, either money is deducted from the account or, in case the account is lacking, a tab is added to it.
The problem with Kimball’s story is that, one, she never added a tab to the unnamed student’s account. In fact, according to Café Services’s records, the student hadn’t had any charges applied to his account in three months, suggesting she’d been giving him free food for a quarter of a year.
And then there’s this: When asked by her manager about the student’s account, Kimball allegedly lied and claimed she’d charged him for his lunch.
“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 video statement to YouTube. “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.”
“Every student in the lunch line gets a lunch, so there was no reason for her not to charge the accounts. Despite the fact that the student goes through the line frequently, according to the employee this 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. This employee was dishonest and was let go for not following procedures. … The policy is no student is refused a lunch.”
In a written statement, Stone added that what made Kimball’s behavior particularly galling was her decision to allow the unnamed student to add several extra items to his meal, according to CNN:
“Stone said the student was in line with a full lunch, as well as oven fries and two packages of cookies. When the student got up to the cashier, Kimball grabbed a Powerade and added it to his tray. She then let the student take the full lunch allowed by school policy and also four additional items.”
“Not only should she not have allowed the additional a la carte items, but she did not record or charge any of the items, including the main lunch, to the student account so they could be paid in the future,” he himself reportedly wrote.
Despite this criticism, Kimball continues to maintain her innocence.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it,'” she said to Boston station WBTS in response to Stone’s accusations. “I made sure the meal was paid for. To me, letting that kid go hungry because he didn’t bring any money that day, that would have been wrong.”
This seems to contradict Stone’s claim that every student is given a meal no matter what. That claim is itself admittedly backed by the school district’s official policy.
“The policy is that the student be fed,” Cookie Hebert, the chairman of Mascoma Valley Regional School Board, explained in a statement to the New Hampshire Union Leader.
So who’s telling the truth? While it’s hard to tell, two of Kimball’s former coworkers have reportedly quit their jobs in protest of her termination, while celebrity chef celebrity chef José Andrés has offered her a job at his restaurants, as can be seen from the tweet up top.
Backlash has likewise begun brewing on social media against Café Services:
This company Cafe Services should not be paid to serve another meal in a school ever again.
And this lunch lady should have no problem getting a better job than she had before.
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) May 17, 2019
What insanity. Thank you, lady for being kind. No thank you, Cafe Services.
— Tanya Elder (@Elderta) May 16, 2019
This is proof that some companies can be just evil and dumb. @CafeServicesInc finds out an employee let a hungry kid run up an $8 tab at school, which he repaid next day. So they fired the kindly, elderly lady. now, for $8, they get unlimited dollar value of bad press.
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) May 16, 2019
Bonnie Kimball, lunch lady is my hero. Cafe Services, YOU are a new low in corporate greed. ?
— ZUE & JUNE (@zukeepre) May 21, 2019
Because of both this backlash and also a threat from Mascoma Superintendent Amanda Isabelle, who’d threatened to pull the company’s $500,000 contract, Café Services reportedly tried to offer Kimball her job back, but she declined.
“[W]e are going to offer to rehire our recently terminated employee and provide her back pay and we will work with the school district to revise policies and procedures regarding transactions,” a spokesperson said to People magazine.
Kimball wasn’t impressed.
“They’re not doing it for me — they are doing it to save face,” she said to CNN.
NEW: Bonnie Kimball tells us she might not want the job back. She believes the company, Cafe Services, is just trying to save face. #WBZ
— Liam Martin (@LiamWBZ) May 18, 2019