It’s hard to imagine that anyone could look into a hungry child’s eyes and deny her readily available food when asked. However, that’s just what some school officials say Dalene Bowden, a cafeteria worker at Irving Middle School in Pocatello, Idaho, should have done if she wanted to keep her job.
According to reports, Bowden was approached last week by a 12-year-old girl who told her she was hungry but couldn’t pay for lunch. Having a heart, Bowden gave her the lunch, which cost $1.70. That move also cost Bowden her job.
Yes, there are rules, but there’s also kindness and compassion, which often need to trump those rules. Bowden admits she was wrong and has offered to repay the $1.70, which seems more than reasonable in this situation, but to fire her? Heartbreaking.
No, the school can’t hand out free lunches left and right with no rules, but this appears to be an isolated case. It appears to be a case of an hourly worker who is being punished for doing something kind for a child, something any caring human being would do in exactly the same situation.
Some will say stealing is stealing and that this is the same as if someone walked into a store and stole groceries to feed a child. However, the school cafeteria is a whole different arena, where a child is surrounded by her peers and is likely embarrassed to even have to ask, much less be refused a simple request for food.
A petition to get Bowden rehired has more than 42,000 supporters already and will hopefully make an impact on the school. Organizers also list more compassionate ways in which to handle similar situations, such as allowing a child to work in the kitchen or cafeteria if they exceed their lunch balance.
Kids need to eat lunch, plain and simple. Children shouldn’t have to go hungry because a parent forgot to pay a bill or wasn’t able to, nor should they be humiliated. Hopefully the publicity surrounding what Bowden did will make this school district and others across the country rethink their policies, with kindness and compassion at the forefront.