CANAAN, N.H. (AP/Gray News) — 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 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 alternative 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.