Bonnie Kimball had been working in the lunchroom of Mascoma Valley Regional High School in New Hampshire for over four years. She told NBC Boston that she developed a special bond with them. “They’re all like my grandchildren — I’ve watched them all grow up,” she said. So when one of them came to the cash with a full tray and empty pockets, she took care of him. Instead of turning the student away, she let him take the items and quietly told him to have his mother put some money on his account. Nothing prepared her for what happened the next day.

No free lunches

Although the boy paid his $8 lunch bill, Kimball was summoned by her two managers and fired over the tab. In a video statement, President of Fresh Picks Cafe Brian Stone says that a review showed that the student wasn’t charged for any of the lunch items. “The employee told the manager that she charged the student’s account for 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 not to charge the account.”
– Brian Stone, President of Fresh Picks Cafe

Her response

For Kimball, being called a liar was a slap in the face. “I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it,'” she said. She insists that what she did was right, both on paper and on principle. “I made sure the meal was paid for,” she said.
“To me, letting that kid go hungry because he didn’t bring any money that day, that would have been wrong. If the bill did not get paid, damn straight I would have paid it out of my own pocket.” – Bonnie Kimball

Huge blowback

As Kimball’s story gained national press, there was a local outcry, with some co-workers quitting in protest. Even celebrity chef José Andrés — himself known for his kindness to those in need — tweeted out Kimball’s story and offered her a job.
After consulting with the school, Cafe Services agreed to rehire Kimball, effective immediately, with back pay. To no surprise, she declined. It turns out that the market for loving lunch ladies is cooking. “A lot of really big offers are coming in for me right now,” Kimball said. “I’ve just gotta decide which one I’m going to take,” she said.

Let’s encourage compassion

For many schools, the toughest subject is hunger. According to one study, over 13 million children from low-income families go to school hungry. It’s a problem that directly impacts their life chances, and cries for greater attention. Maybe instead of firing the lunch workers who feed the needy, the lifeguards who rescue or the bankers who lend a dollar, we should applaud them and invite them to help. As for Kimball, she might be fired, but she keeps in touch with her beloved kids. “I still go to their sports games. It’s like one big family. I’m just not there every day.” For more uplifting news: