Lunch Lady Fired For Giving Free Lunch To A Hungry Student

by Maria Guido

The lunch lady was fired a week before Christmas for not denying a hungry student a $1.70 lunch

An Idaho middle school lunch lady was fired just weeks before Christmas because she gave a $1.70 lunch to a hungry student. That’s right — one student didn’t have the money to pay for a hot lunch, she was hungry, and Dalene Bowden “broke the rules” to feed her. Frankly, that’s the kind of “rule breaker” that should be working in every cafeteria in this country.

The breast cancer survivor has worked for the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 for the past three years, and the students love her. “Last year during an assembly, I got a standing ovation from the students when my name and photo came up on the screen,” Bowden told the Idaho State Journal. “I love them, and they all love me, too. That’s probably why the girl came to me when she didn’t have any money.”

“I love my job, I really do,” Bowden said. “This just breaks my heart, and I was in the wrong, but what do you do when the kid tells you that they’re hungry, and they don’t have any money? I handed her the tray.”

Bowden was first placed on unpaid leave, then terminated. Her termination letter states, “The reason for your termination is due to your theft-stealing school district or another’s property and inaccurate transactions when ordering, receiving, or serving food.”

The Superintendent claims there are policies in place for students who don’t have money for food. Parents are notified when the lunch bill deficit reaches $11, and at that point students are given a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of a hot lunch. Bowden claims she’s seen lunch workers take hot lunch trays away from students who’ve reached the deficit, and throw them in the trash. “If the kids can’t pay, and they’re over their limit, the workers take their tray away and dump it right there in the line,” Bowden said.

Ironically, Bowden claims she later found out the girl was within her $11 limit and could have charged the meal. “But the girl didn’t know what her balance was and was too embarrassed and afraid to ask.”

This policy of policing the food of hungry students in the cafeteria is downright ridiculous. No students who are in economically tough situations should feel shame and embarrassment at lunch time. She had enough to charge her meal but was too ashamed to ask? Who knows how many times she’s been in a similar situation with an overcharge on her lunch balance? Isn’t this something that should be taken up with the parent, not the child?

The Superintendent claims “We don’t deny students a lunch.” But they are denying a beloved lunch room worker a job. And they left her unemployed weeks before Christmas, for a $1.70 lunch deficit that turns out wasn’t even a deficit? This is just stupid. Even if it was a pattern of behavior, we should be questioning a system that tightens the reigns on student lunches and throws food away — not a worker in that system trying to do right by kids.