School lunch lady, Bonnie Kimball, rehired after controversial firing for giving student free food

Before she was offered her old job back, Celebrity Chef José Andrés invited Kimball to work at his restaurant

The cafeteria worker who was terminated for giving a student free food was offered her position back. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

A cafeteria worker at Mascoma Valley Regional High School in New Hampshire made national headlines last week after she was terminated for allowing a hungry student have $8 worth of food without paying.

Public outrage nearly broke the internet as debate raged across social media about the seemingly wrongful termination of Bonnie Kimball.

Kimball explained to CNN that she is longtime friends with the boy’s parents, and as she expected, he paid what he owed for the lunch meal the following morning. But when her employer, Café Services, heard about what she did, Kimball was canned a week later on April 4.

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Kimball, a staffer at school for the past five years, said the district manager told her, “Do you understand what you did was wrong? That was theft.”

But after reviewing the policies for handling transactions with students, Fresh Picks, the school division of Café Services, told PEOPLE in a statement on Friday that  “we 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,” the company added. “We will then work with our manager on those policies.”

The statement also noted that at the time, “our district manager made a decision he felt was right at the time.”

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Kimball’s termination letter, obtained by CNN, stressed that giving a student “multiple food items that you did not charge him for,” was/is “in strict violation of our Cash Handling Procedures, the Schools Charge Policy and Federal Regulation governing free meals.”

Kimball recalled the March 28 incident when the student informed her that he did not have enough money to pay for his lunch meal.

“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,’” she told The Valley News

All hell broke loose, however, when the manager spotted the kid with a tray a food that he had not paid for.

Once folks in the community heard about Kimball’s termination, they stepped up to support her, including two colleagues who quit in protest, according to PEOPLE.

Prior to being rehired, Celebrity Chef José Andrés took to Twitter to offer Kimball an opportunity to apply for work his nonprofit World Central Kitchen.