An Idaho lunch lady who said she was fired for giving a hungry student free food has reportedly been offered her job back.
Dalene Bowden, a server at Irving Middle school in Pocatello, was allegedly terminated from her position for “theft” when she gave a 12-year-old student free lunch on Dec. 15 because the young girl couldn’t afford the meal.
“I handed her the food and said ‘here we’ll take care of it in a minute,’” Bowden told KPVI News.
However, Bowden’s supervisor – who was not identified – reported her.
The letter Bowden received was from the director of human resources that explained the termination of her employment. It read in part:
“The reason for your termination is due to your theft-stealing [of] school district or another’s property and inaccurate transactions when ordering, receiving and serving food.”
Another part of the note read the former lunch lady’s firing was in the district’s “best interest.”
“My heart hurts,” said Bowden to KPVI, “I truly loved my job, and I can’t say that I wouldn’t do it again.”
According to NBC News, the Pocatello school district declined to comment on the specifics of Bowden’s case but “suggested Bowden was not fired only for serving one student a free meal.”
When asked why Bowden gave food away for free, she said it was what felt right.
“Because they’re hungry, what do you do?”
Bowden said this school year alone she’s had upwards to 100 students telling her “they’re starving.”
In a statement issued by the school district, it says there are programs, including the Federal Food Service Program, that helps children who are hungry and in need of meals at school. The statement also says not the district, board nor employees determine the regulation of such programs and “the district jeopardizes it’s funding for the Federal Food Service Program if its employees do not follow the proper procedures and requirements.”
According to a 2013 research by the National Center for Children in Poverty, 48 per cent of children – anyone under the age of 18 –in Idaho live in a low income household, with 56 per cent of those children under the age of six.
The NCCP also states a family of four “need an income of about twice the federal poverty threshold to meet their most basic needs.” A household receiving income lower than $47,248 are “referred to as low income.”
And when word got out of Bowden’s discharge, residents of Pocatello were in disbelief.
“If a kid cannot pay for a meal, or a parent cannot pay for a meal and a person is punished for feeding that kid, somebody’s got it wrong. Something is not right,” said one local to KPVI.
A petition was created online on behalf of Bowden to reinstate her job, where people continued to voice their opinion of the situation:
According to the Idaho State Journal, students “are allowed to charge up to $11 in the lunch room,” with parents being told when their child’s bill has reached the limit.
The local newspaper also reported the 12-year-old girl’s lunch amounted to $1.70, which Bowden offered to pay for.
Global News has reached out to the school’s district, the director of human resources and the principal of Irving Middle School but has yet to receive a response.
You can read the Pocatello school district’s statement here.