The plight of a fired school cafeteria worker in New Hampshire has caught the attention of award-winning chef José Andrés.
Bonnie Kimball was fired by a food supply vendor for Mascoma Valley Regional High School on March 28, a day after giving a free lunch to a student who couldn’t pay. The company later offered to rehire Kimball but she declined . In the meantime, she has received an outpouring of support — from co-workers who quit in protest to strangers who have raised more than $5,000 on her behalf.
Andrés, who owns restaurants in Washington, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and other cities, is known for his efforts to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. He tweeted a link Friday to a news story about Kimball, praising her and advertising job openings at his restaurants. While he did not explicitly offer her a job in the tweet, many of his fans responded as if he had.
“The hero is Bonnie Kimball! If she needs a job we have openings at @thinkfoodgroup if you know her, let her know!” he wrote.
An email request for comment was sent Sunday to a spokeswoman for Andrés. An email request also was sent to Kimball, and a message was left on her voicemail.
She told The Associated Press last week that she was in awe of the attention and support she has received.
“When I walked out of the school the day that I got fired, all that was going through my head was that I wouldn’t be able to show my face again. People would think I was a thief,” she said.
The incident comes as schools across the country are struggling to deal with how to address students who can’t pay for their lunch.
A 2011 survey found that a majority of districts had unpaid lunch charges and that most dealt with it by offering students alternatives meals. Last month, federal lawmakers also introduced “anti-lunch shaming” legislation to protect students with unpaid lunch bills. The USDA also discourages practices that stigmatize students, but allows districts to set their own policies.