Celebrity chef Jose Andres praises 'hero' cafeteria worker fired for giving lunch to a student

The story of a New Hampshire cafeteria worker who was fired after providing a free lunch to a student who couldn't pay has caught the attention of celebrity chef Jose Andres, who called the woman a "hero" and encouraged her to apply for a job at one of his restaurants.

Andres, 49, tweeted a link Friday to a story about Bonnie Kimball, adding the message: "If she needs a job we have openings at @thinkfoodgroup if you know her, let her know!" While he did not explicitly offer her a job in the tweet, many of his fans responded as if he had.

Kimball was fired March 28 by a division of Café Services, Inc., a food supplier for Mascoma Valley Regional High School in Canaan, a day after giving the meal for a student who had no money in his account. The company said last week that it had offered to rehire Kimball with back pay, but she accused them of only offering to rehire her “so that it could keep its contract" with the school district.

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In the meantime, Kimball's story has made national news and 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.

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"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.

Celebrity chef Jose Andres, 49, tweeted a link Friday to a story about Bonnie Kimball, adding the message: "If she needs a job we have openings at @thinkfoodgroup if you know her, let her know!" While he did not explicitly offer her a job in the tweet, many of his fans responded as if he had.

Celebrity chef Jose Andres, 49, tweeted a link Friday to a story about Bonnie Kimball, adding the message: "If she needs a job we have openings at @thinkfoodgroup if you know her, let her know!" While he did not explicitly offer her a job in the tweet, many of his fans responded as if he had. (AP)

On Tuesday, The Mascoma Regional School Board voted Tuesday to continue using Café Services, Inc. for another year, despite the controversy involving Kimball.

Andrés, who owns restaurants in Washington, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami Beach and other cities, is known for his efforts to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

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The New Hampshire 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.