Dalene Bowden, a cafeteria worker at Irving Middle School in Pocatello, Idaho, has been removed from her position after Bowden gave away a free hot lunch to a 12-year-old student who did not have the money to pay for her meal.
Although she then offered to pay for the girl’s $1.70 meal, the school district responded by placing its employee of three years on unpaid “termination leave,” according to the Idaho Statesman. The district superintendent says that Bowden broke school policy by giving away a free meal, which Bowden does not contest.
“I love my job, I really do,” Bowden told the Statesman. “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.”
According to district policy, students are allowed to charge up to $11 for lunches, at which point parents are notified of the bill. Students who have exceeded the tab are supposed to be given a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If a student is past their $11 limit, employees are supposed to throw away their hot lunch tray.
Bowden later found out that the student was within the $11 limit and could have charged the meal, but was too embarrassed to ask about her balance. “She came to me, she said she was hungry and she didn’t have any money,” Bowden said. “I would do it again in the same situation.”
Bowden has since been served with a termination letter by the district. According to the Idaho State Journal, Bowden has been met with vigorous support on social media, including an online petition asking the district to rehire her.
Bowden reportedly plans to seek legal advice regarding her termination. “I don’t think I deserved to lose my job over it,” Bowden told the Journal.