It’s been a whirlwind week in Canaan, New Hampshire, with television cameras descending on the town of fewer than 4,000 after news of a cafeteria worker being fired for giving a student a free meal garnered national media attention.
Bonnie Kimball claimed that she had lost her job when a supervisor caught her giving food worth $8 to a student whose account had no money. She received an outpouring of support after the story went viral, including a job offer from celebrity chef José Andrés, and the contractor that employed her offered to rehire her.
But now the school district has withdrawn its support for Kimball after the student’s mother shared information with the New Hampshire Union Leader suggesting Kimball lied and engaged in a “cover-up.”
Kimball had served lunch in the cafeteria of Mascoma Valley Regional High for nearly five years, according to the Valley News, when she was fired March 29. The Union Leader reported, based on her account, that the termination came in response to a manager catching her giving one meal to a student who had no money in his lunch account.
After an outpouring of public support for Kimball, the president of the Café Services subsidiary that employed her, Brian Stone, said in a May 17 statement to The Washington Post that the company would offer to rehire her.
That same day, Kimball told the Associated Press she wasn’t interested in taking the job back, alleging that the company, Fresh Picks Café, had offered her her job back “so that it could keep its contract [with the school district].”
But the mother of the student who got the free lunch from Kimball has now told the Union Leader that Kimball has been dishonest. She said that her son, a 17-year-old, was supposed to bring his own lunches.
“I have three children, and they are all well-cared for and well-fed,” the mother told the Union Leader. “She did not get fired for feeding a hungry child.”
The woman, who the Union Leader did not name to protect her privacy, also shared Facebook messages from Kimball to the teenager attempting to cover up her account given to the news media.
“We will prolly get written up,” Kimball wrote, according to the messages cited by the Union Leader, “but we can make it look good. Lol.”
Stone said that the teenager received free food from Kimball for three months, not just one meal.
The student’s mother told the Union Leader that she did not know why Kimball was giving her son free food.
“We have nothing to do with her outside of the school system,” she told the paper.
Kimball rejected the student’s mother’s claims of a coverup, the Union Leader reported.
After the story went viral, Kimball started a GoFundMe account that has raised $8,498 as of May 24. A representative for GoFundMe, who had previously verified the account, told The Washington Post, “GoFundMe will honor refund requests by donors. To date, we have not received any requests for refunds.”
When first reached for comment May 17, a Café Services representative told The Post that “the information as reported is untrue” but declined to elaborate. The school district superintendent, Amanda Isabelle, confirmed that district policy is to provide lunch to every student, regardless of their ability to pay.
On May 20, Stone, the president of the Café Services subsidiary that employed Kimball, released a video statement explaining that while he had not commented on the matter before out of “respect for the privacy and confidentiality of our employees,” he wanted to correct the record.
“This student hadn’t been charged for anything for the previous three months,” Stone said. “This employee was dishonest and was let go for not following procedures.”
Isabelle, the school district superintendent, wrote in a May 22 Facebook post that the district was “rescinding its demand that the employee be rehired.”
“We have been overwhelmed by a crush of national and international media interest in this incident,” Isabelle wrote, “but I do not believe we have yet seen a full and complete retelling of the facts.”
In a separate statement sent to The Post, Stone said he hoped the attention on the story could be directed instead to organizations such as Friends of Mascoma, which supports nutrition in the area. He closed his video statement with a call for a return to normal.
“We’d like to get back to the business of feeding kids,” he said, “because that’s what we love to do.”