Update: Dianne Brame has been rehired by Chartwell's School Dining Services following the huge response from this story.
WEBSTER GROVES, MO (KTVI) - A St. Louis County cafeteria worker is out of a job after giving away free meals to a child in need.
For two years, Dianne Brame worked as a cafeteria manager at Hudson Elementary in Webster Groves, keeping kids’ bellies full for their all-important task of learning.
The lunch lady loved her job: “I knew kids by their names, I knew their likes and dislikes, so it was just fun.”
But recently, she came across a fourth grader who consistently came without money. She says he used to be on the free lunch program, but language barriers got in the way of reapplying: “I sent them paperwork so that they could get back in contact with me, but it didn’t happen,” she says.
For days, Brame snuck the boy lunches. She explains, “I let his account get over $45 which I’m only supposed to let it get over $10, and I started letting him come through my lunch line without putting his number in, and they look at that as stealing. I thought it was just taking care of a kid.”
She was trying to protect him from the bullying: a cruel side dish to the default cheese sandwich given to kids without lunch money. “The kids would ridicule and tell them, ah you don’t have any money, that’s why you have to eat cheese sandwiches every day,” Brame says.
On Tuesday, word got around to Brame’s supervisor, who put her between a rock and a hard place: either leave, or move to another school in a demoted position. The 60 year-old former manager felt she didn’t have a choice.
“My husband died in February, I lost my home, car got repo’ed,” she explains, “Hudson is in walking distance from me, so I took the firing. Fire me.”
Gary Woodruff, whose daughter attends Hudson Elementary, finds the punishment to be harsh: “It just seems a little excessive that they would do that to a lunch lady, I mean it’s a little bit ridiculous, especially nowadays with the economy and what not.”
Now, jobless and with the holidays right around the corner, Brame is on a tighter budget—giving cookies instead of pricier presents.
According to Brame’s employer, she does have the opportunity to appeal the decision. But Brame says she doesn’t want to bother, especially because she knows she violated protocol.
Looking back, she says she wouldn’t change a thing: “I don’t think any kid should be hungry. I don’t. And it’s my belief that some of these kids who go to school and get meals, that may be the only meal they eat that day.”