MANCHESTER, N.H. - A New Hampshire food service company is speaking out after a school cafeteria worker said she was fired for giving food to a student who couldn't pay.
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
"This employee was dishonest and was let go for not following procedures," Brian Stone, president of Cafe Services' Fresh Picks Cafe division, said in a video posted to the company's YouTube account Monday.
The statement came days after allegations by former Cafe Services worker Bonnie Kimball went viral, even prompting a tweet by celebrity chef José Andrés.
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
Kimball, who worked in the Mascoma Valley Regional High School lunchroom for nearly five years, said she let a boy take $8 worth of food March 28 as a district manager looked on. The boy couldn't pay, so she didn't charge him, the Valley News reported.
The boy paid the tab March 29, the same day Kimball was fired, she told the Union Leader.
In a letter dated April 9, the food vendor said the district manager saw Kimball violate the company's "cash handling procedures, the school's charge policy and federal regulation governing free meals," according to the Valley News.
The incident came as Cafe Services was vying to have its contract renewed with the school district. Board members voted May 14 to continue that agreement.
Kimball told the Valley News that she had been following her direct supervisor's instructions to avoid causing "any scenes with the contract." Her boss had told her earlier this year to give food to students who couldn't pay and let them know they needed more money on their accounts, she said.
"We weren't supposed to pull trays," Kimball told the Union Leader.
School Board Chairman Cookie Hebert said the district's policy is that students be fed even if they can't pay; however, they are supposed to get "the lunch of the day," not "a la carte" dishes, the Union Leader reported. The student in Kimball's case had taken the latter.
Shortly after Kimball's story made national headlines, Cafe Services offered to rehire her and give her back pay. Kimball refused, CNN reported Friday.
In his statement Monday, Stone disputed many of Kimball's claims without mentioning her by name.
"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. "Every student in the lunch line gets a lunch, so there was no reason for her to not charge the account."
Stone added that even though Kimball said the student frequently went through the lunch line, the boy's account "hadn't been charged for anything" in three months.
"Now that there is a change in staff, this student's account shows regular activity," Stone said.
Kimball responded to Stone’s allegations in a Monday interview with the Union Leader, saying she let the student take food without paying after he stopped qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches.
“He did not have money on his account if and when he came in,” Kimball told the newspaper. “Sometimes he paid cash, and sometimes (he put it) on his girlfriend’s account. Lots of times he would charge it to a friend’s (account).”