Lunch Lady Speaks Out After Getting Fired for Feeding a Kid Who Didn't Have Money


Bonnie Kimball was more than just a lunchroom employee to the kids at Mascoma Valley Regional High School in West Canaan, New Hampshire.

While students came through her cafeteria line, she listened to them, gave them ice for their sports injuries, and even convinced them to stay in school when they were having a rough time.

"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.”

  • But that ended last month when Kimball was fired for letting a student have lunch when his account was empty.

    The incident occurred during the time that the contract was expiring for Cafe Services, the  company handling the high-school’s food service. The administration was trying to decide if they would be switching to a rival company, the Abbey Group. 

    On March 28, the Abbey Group was observing the school’s food service operations.

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  • Kimball says she was also being watched carefully that day by Cafe Services, which had sent a district manager to watch over the employees. 

    “When I rang him up, the student didn’t have any money on their account,” Kimball said. “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.’ ” 

    Kimball said the student replied, “OK, will do,” and continued on with his lunch. She said the district manager asked her what the student had on his tray, and then walked away. 

    According to the Union Leader, the lunch was worth $8.

  • The day after that interaction, Kimball was terminated.

    “It was my life for five years. I went and I took care of another family,” she told Valley News. “You don’t just lose a family member, be OK and move on.”

  • Two of Kimball’s coworkers quit in protest, and the beloved employee and the staff has the support of many in the community.

    “These guys really took care of our kids. They put our kids first and their focus was really our kids,” said one parent, whose son attends the high school.

  • “I know Bonnie went above and beyond for the kids.”

    But Cafe Services -- which according to a recently submitted bid makes more than half a million dollars supplying food to the district -- sent a letter to Kimball defending her termination over the $8 lunch.

    “On March 28, a District manager was on-site and witnessed a student coming through the line with multiple food items that you did not charge him for,” the letter said. “This is a strict violation of our Cash Handling Procedures, the Schools Charge Policy and Federal Regulation governing free meals.”

  • As for the lunch tab at the center of the controversy, Kimball says the student paid his bill 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," Kimball told the Associated Press. "I know they would have brought the money the next day. The bill was going to get paid."

  • After all of the public outcry, Kimball was offered her job back. She declined the offer.

    She told NBC10 that Fresh Picks, the school lunch division of Cafe Services, was only hiring her back so that it could keep its contract with the school. 

    And now, Cafe Services is denying Kimball’s account of the events that occurred.

    "Fresh Picks Cafe, a division of Cafe Services, Inc., would never authorize an employee to not feed a student or a staff member a meal," a spokesperson for Cafe Services said.

  • It looks like Kimball has a better offer, anyway. She was just offered a job with world-renowned chef Jose Andres.

    In a tweet, Andres reached out to Kimball and offered her a job at his company, Think Food Group.

    “New Hampshire school cafeteria worker fired for giving food to student who couldn't pay - WHBQ! The hero is Bonnie Kimball!” he wrote. “If she needs a job we have openings at @thinkfoodgroup if you know her, let her know!”

  • Back at her old school, the kids -- and the administration -- miss her and are hoping she comes back.

    “We are grateful for the ‘kitchen ladies’ and their presence in our lives” wrote one counselor from the school district in a letter to the editor of Valley News. "These three good women will not be forgotten and will find other ways to be of service. 

    “Meanwhile, we will miss them at Mascoma and wish they were still with us.”

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