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Mascoma lunch vendor says cafeteria worker fired over a la carte extras



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, May 19, 2019

CANAAN – The company that provides food services at Mascoma Valley Regional High School says a cafeteria worker was fired in March because she allowed a student to add extra items, including oven fries and a sports drink, to the lunch he was being provided without charging them to his account.

Bonnie Kimball told the Valley News last month that she was fired in late March by Manchester-based vendor Cafe Services for letting a student keep his food even though his account had no money in it, and that she told the boy to have his mother replenish the account.

News of her firing, which school and company officials on Friday said they would rescind, has drawn international attention, including assertions that the boy might otherwise have gone hungry. On Friday, celebrity chef Jose Andres tweeted that Kimball was a “hero” and offered her a job.

But in a Facebook post late Saturday, Brian Stone, the CEO and president of Cafe Services, which delivers meals at Mascoma through its Fresh Picks Cafe division, said “regardless of whether they can pay,” students at Mascoma receive a “healthy lunch of an entrée or sandwich, plus side dishes or fresh fruit and milk.”

Although Kimball was not directly named in the statement, Stone said the issue that led to her firing was school policy that prohibits additional items beyond the basic lunch from being charged, and that they should be paid for with cash or through money in a student’s account.

“The student in this case came down the line with a full lunch plus oven fries and 2 packages of cookies. When the student got up to the cashier, (Kimball) grabbed a Powerade and added it to his tray, then let the student take the full lunch allowed by school policy and also the four additional items,” Stone said in the Facebook post.

“Not only should she not have allowed the additional a la carte items, but she did not record or charge any of the items, including the main lunch, to the student account so they could be paid in the future,” he wrote.

Cafe Services did not respond to phone messages from the Valley News seeking comment for its initial story, and Kimball said last month she let the boy keep the food because a visiting company official, concerned about an upcoming contract vote, had told her “Don’t cause any scenes with the contract.”

The termination letter Kimball provided the newspaper said she was being fired for letting the student take “multiple food items that you did not charge him for,” which was deemed a “strict violation” of cash-handling procedures, the school’s charge policy, and federal regulations for free meals at school.

The Mascoma School Board last Tuesday voted, 5-1, to adopt a new contract with Cafe Services, then late Friday issued a news release saying Kimball was being offered her job back, with back pay.

Kimball said she did not intend to accept the offer though over the weekend told WMUR-TV she might still talk to company officials on Monday to give them her side of the story. The Canaan resident also has launched a GoFundMe page that as of Sunday had raised almost $7,600, exceeding her $6,000 goal.

In the Mascoma news release on Friday, Mascoma Interim Superintendent Amanda Isabelle said it “will work with Cafe Services to review food services policies to ensure that they meet best practices.”

“The goal of this is to ensure that the school district, the vendor, and their employees do not face the uncertainty and allegations levied in this situation in the future,” her statement said.

Isabelle also noted that the school district “does not refuse to provide food to a hungry child who cannot afford to pay.” About 360 students, representing 36% of the district’s four schools, are eligible to receive free or reduced lunch, according to statistics compiled by the New Hampshire Department of Education. 

The news release from Isabelle also said the policy regarding free lunches is that students “will always be provided with meals, milk, fruits and vegetables,” but that other items such as ice cream bars and sports drinks are not provided for free.

“Those packaged items have a high unit cost to the district and are not viewed as essential nutrition,” Isabelle wrote.

Stone, the Cafe Services official, said in his statement that the “issue of food insecurity affects communities across the country and we at Fresh Picks work sensitively with students every day. At the end of the day it’s about kids being fed.”

Other communities in the Upper Valley have also been struggling with the issue. In March, the Claremont School Board said it wants the school district to be more diligent in getting families to fill out forms to receive free or reduced lunch after lunch debt again approached $21,000.

News staff writer John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.