Cafeteria worker’s free lunch gets her fired

Dalene Bowden
Dalene Bowden

Dalene Bowden, a food service worker at Irving Middle School, was placed on leave last week after she gave a hot lunch to a 12-year-old who said she was hungry and didn’t have any money.

Bowden has now received a registered letter from the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District informing her that she has been fired.

The one-page letter, signed by District 25 Director of Human Resources Susan Petit, says Bowden was dismissed due to her theft of school district property and inaccurate transactions when ordering, receiving and serving food. The letter says Bowden will be paid within 10 days.

Bowden’s story garnered hundreds of comments on social media. An online petition was launched Saturday demanding that Bowden be reinstated.

Bowden said she offered to pay for the $1.70 lunch, but her supervisor rejected her offer. She was placed on termination leave last Tuesday pending a meeting with the District 25 School Board.

District School Board member Jacob Gertsch declined to comment, calling it a personnel matter. Administrators could not be reached.

“This is just breaking my heart,” Bowden said.

As of Monday, more than 1,800 people had signed the online petition started by Raushelle Guzman, of Pocatello, hoping to convince the district to rehire Bowden. Guzman said she doesn’t know Bowden, but she does have two children who attend District 25 schools.

“I think (Bowden) did the right thing and I think we need to make sure that every child that wants lunch can have lunch,” Guzman said.

Bowden has worked for District 25 for three years and said she’s never been reprimanded for her job performance. She said she did receive a verbal warning once for giving a student a free cookie.

She plans to seek legal counsel regarding the termination letter accusing her of theft.

“I broke the rules, but I offered to pay for the meal and I don’t think I deserved to lose my job over it,” Bowden said.

Last week, Interim Superintendent Douglas Howell said District 25 works to make sure children who live in economically disadvantaged homes receive free or reduced hot lunches. Shelley Allen, spokeswoman for the district, said that students who exceed an $11 charge limit are provided something to eat, such as a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and milk.

Bowden said if a child is over the limit, workers are supposed to take his or her tray away and dump it.

“I know I screwed up, but what are you supposed to do when the kid tells you that they’re hungry and they don’t have any money?” she asked.