For five years, Bonnie Kimball's job serving students at Mascoma Valley Regional High School in Canaan, New Hampshire, lunch was her life.
"We didn't even call it work," Kimball told Valley News. "We got up in the morning, we took care of our families and we went to take care of the kids."
Kimball's extended second family at the school included 326 students, and she shares that, in between ringing them up at the cash register and making them ice cream sundaes, she listened to them.
But according to the New Hampshire Union Leader, Kimball was fired by the school's food vendor, Cafe Services, after she allowed a boy to have his $8 lunch when it was discovered he had no money in his account on March 28.
As the contract with Cafe Services, under its Fresh Picks Cafe subsidiary, is set to expire, another vendor, The Abbey Group, was at Mascoma High to observe kitchen operations. Cafe Services sent a district manager to the school who, at one point, was watching Kimball run the register.
"When I rang him up, the student didn't have any money on their account," Kimball told Valley News. "So, I have a district manager here. My boss has told me, 'Don't cause any scenes with the contract,' and I quietly said, 'Tell [your] mom you need money.'"
The student told Kimball that he would, and he paid his outstanding bill the next day. However, that same day, Kimball was notified of her termination.
"It was my life for five years. I went and I took care of another family," she said. "You don't just lose a family member, be OK and move on."
While the district's policy, according to school board chairman Cookie Hebert, is for a student to be fed even if they do not pay, they are supposed to receive the "lunch of the day," not "a la carte" dishes. Many rose to Kimball's defense.
Students and staff are rallying behind a Mascoma Valley Regional High School lunch lady fired for allowing a boy to run up an $8 lunch debt rather than go hungy. Bonnie Kimball thought she was doing the right thing and the parent did eventually pay. https://t.co/y65rc8oGjX pic.twitter.com/eds9teHG2m— UnionLeader.com (@UnionLeader) May 15, 2019
Two of Kimball's coworkers quit in protest of her firing, a community member wrote an impassioned letter to the editor outlining what all the "kitchen ladies" have done for the students for a "modest wage and without fringe benefits — no health insurance, no paid vacations or time off when sick," and many responded to the news with outrage on social media.
The school district stood behind her, too. Kimball herself said she does not blame the district and reports that she has received many encouraging words from officials.
Ultimately, Cafe Services' decision to terminate Kimball's employment did not sway the School Board's vote on Tuesday. The board voted to continue using Cafe Services for another year. Meanwhile, Kimball says, “I guess I’m mourning my job.”
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