CANAAN — Mascoma Valley Regional High School lunchroom employee Bonnie Kimball thought she was doing the right thing when she let a student take food even though he didn’t have money to pay.
Her employer, Cafe Services, disagreed and fired her, accusing her of stealing the $8 lunch tab, according to a letter the company gave her.
Kimball said the staff at the small high school where she worked for 4½ years knows the students and their circumstances when they come through the lunch line.
“We know these kids,” Kimball said.
The boy had several a la carte items on his tray, and Kimball quietly told him to have his mother put some money on his account, she said. That was on March 28 while a manager for the Manchester-based Cafe Services was at the high school observing the operations. The food vendor’s contract was up for renewal at the time.
On March 29, the student came in and paid his lunch bill. Kimball was called in by two managers later that day and fired over the tab, she said.
“I was doing what I was told to do,” Kimball said.
Kimball said her direct manager instructed her in February to let students take food and discreetly tell them they need to add money to their account. The manager was concerned about the pending contract renewal and did not want to cause any issues at the school, she said.
“We weren’t supposed to pull trays,” she said.
Cafe Services was going up against the Abbey Group for the food services contract. Representatives for Cafe Services did not respond to a request for comment.
Cookie Hebert, chairman of Mascoma Valley Regional School Board, declined to comment directly on Kimball’s situation, as she was an employee of Cafe Services and not the district. Hebert said Cafe Services is responsible for making sure all of the district’s policies are enacted, including the policy that students get lunch even if they have no money to pay.
“The policy is that the student be fed,” Hebert said. “There’s no refusal.”
Hebert said it is her understanding that students who have no money are given the lunch of the day and are prohibited from getting the a la carte menu items.
Kimball said the two other employees in the Mascoma lunchroom quit in protest of her treatment. Hebert said that while the staff did leave, it did not have a negative impact at the school.
“There’s been no hiccups in the service to the district,” Hebert said.
This week, the board voted to continue using Cafe Services as a food vendor for another year, awarding it a contract worth more than $560,000.