Pocatello, Idaho Cafeteria Worker Fired For Giving Hungry Girl A Free Meal

A school cafeteria worker in Pocatello, Idaho, has been fired from her job after giving a free meal to a 12-year-old girl who was hungry and didn’t have any money, the Idaho Statesman is reporting.

Dalene Bowden had been a cafeteria worker at Irving Middle School in the Idaho community of about 43,000 people for the past three years. Her disciplinary record wasn’t exactly spotless – she had been written up once for giving a child a free cookie, which she offered to pay for. But last week, she was fired, via a letter, over giving a hungry kid a free lunch. A lunch which cost $1.70.

As KSDK (Saint Louis) reports, last week Bowden was working her regular shift in the cafeteria when a student, identified only as a 12-year-old girl, told her she was hungry and didn’t have any money.

“So I handed her the food, and said ‘here, we’ll take care of it in a minute.'”

Bowden’s supervisor witnessed the exchange and reported her. She was then told that she was on permanent leave until further notice. Bowden offered to pay the $1.70 herself for the meal, but school officials rejected her offer. A few days later, she was sent a registered letter from the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District telling her she’d been fired. Officially, she was fired for theft of school district property and inaccurate transactions when ordering, receiving, and serving food.

The school didn’t even send her a final paycheck with her termination letter, instead telling her that she will be paid within 10 days.

Bowden calls her firing over giving a hot meal to a kid in need “ridiculous.”

“They’re hungry, what do you do? Send them out there so they can get it taken away and thrown away? No!”

District 25 school officials don’t see it that way, however. School officials declined to comment specifically on Bowden’s case, saying it’s a personnel matter. Interim Superintendent Douglas Howell noted that the district has a program that allows students who are in need to get hot school lunches at a free or reduced price. Further, the district participates in the Idaho Food Bank’s program that sends free foodstuffs home each week to kids who are in need.

Students in the Pocatello district are given a charge card of sorts for their cafeteria meals, says District spokesperson Shelley Allen, and parents are expected to pay money into their children’s accounts for their meals. When students exceed an $11 charge limit, their parents are sent a letter asking them to refill their child’s account. Students whose cards are over the limit are not sent away hungry. Instead, they’re given a cold lunch, such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk.

It is not clear if the student Bowden helped is from a family in need or if she just didn’t have any money on her card that day.

Bowden says she plans to seek legal counsel to appeal to the courts over her termination.

In the meantime, Bowden’s firing has outraged the community where she worked. Raushelle Guzman, of Pocatello, has started an online petition to get Bowden reinstated. And as of this writing, that petition has received over 46,000 signatures.

“I think [Bowden] did the right thing and I think we need to make sure that every child that wants lunch can have lunch. I think the district’s policy needs to be changed. We do not need to humiliate or demean any child or worker in that situation. Students must be provided with an adequate meal.”

Do you think this school cafeteria worker deserved to be fired for providing a free, hot meal to a student in need? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[Image via Shutterstock/mertcan]