Even though she is now out of a job, Denver-area kitchen manager Della Curry said she has no regrets about providing free lunches to needy students at her elementary school.
Della was fired by the Cherry Creek School District last week after administrators learned she occasionally gave meals to students who don’t qualify for the free or reduced lunch program.
“It is policy to never give out free food… That is all fine and dandy until you have little kids not on the free and reduced program and their account goes negative,” she told the Denver Post, explaining she gave out about 20 lunches in the past year. Often times, the students’ families were just outside of qualifying for reduced lunch.
The district policy is to give kids without lunch money one slice of cheese on a hamburger bun and a small milk, which amounts to fewer than 300 calories and doesn’t provide any of the recommended fruits or vegetables. Della told CBS4 she doesn’t think that’s sufficient for growing kids. Even though she often paid for the lunches out of her own pocket, she was aware it was a firing offense.
“I had a first grader in front of me, crying, because she doesn’t have enough money for lunch. Yes, I gave her lunch,” she said. “If me getting fired for it is one way that we can try to change this, I’ll take it in a heartbeat.”
After the story aired, the school district defended their policy in a statement:
We provide hot meals to students the first three times they forget their lunch money and charge their parents’ accounts. The fourth time, we provide a cheese sandwich and milk. No child is ever allowed to go without lunch… The district has worked to keep lunch prices low and still meet the federal nutrition requirements. The costs of our lunch program are not covered by the prices we charge… Again, no child is ever denied a meal due to the inability to pay.
However, most local parents are rallying around Della.
“Do something different besides fire her,” said parent Darnell Hill, whose son got a free lunch from Della when he forgot his money. “She’s trying to help.”
In comments, another another, “So it is a punishable offense that she fed a hungry child? I thought it was what is called, ‘having a heart.'”
In response to the district’s statement, one said, “Really a piece of cheese on bread and milk. You should be ashamed for firing this woman. Your school is an disgrace to schools everywhere. Do the right thing and give her her job back.”