Stephen A. Crockett Jr.
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Dalene Bowden
NBC News Screenshot
Dalene Bowden
NBC News Screenshot

An Idaho lunch lady was canned just days before Christmas for giving a hungry middle school student with no money a $1.70 lunch.

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"I handed her the food and said, 'Here, we'll take care of it in a minute," ' Irving Middle School cafeteria worker Dalene Bowden told KPVI after the Dec. 15 incident.

Bowden says she tried to pay for the lunch she gave the 12-year-old girl, but her supervisor told her she couldn't. Bowden was placed on leave, and on Monday she received a letter from the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District indicating that she had been terminated for theft, the Idaho Statesman reports

"My heart hurts. I truly loved my job, and I can't say that I wouldn't do it again," a sobbing Bowden, who worked in the school cafeteria for three years, told KPVI.

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News of Bowden's firing caused an uproar on social media; an online petition calling for Bowden to be reinstated at the school has more than 70,000 signatures, and a GoFundMe account has raised over $14,000.

School officials had not commented on the firing as of Wednesday afternoon, NBC News reports.

Shelley Allen, a spokeswoman for the district, told the Idaho Statesman that if a child's lunch account has more than an $11 unpaid balance, parents are notified, but students are still provided with a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk.

Bowden told the news station that if a child's account was overdrawn by $11, they were instructed to take the child's food tray away and throw the food in the trash. 

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KPVI notes that Bowden has hired an attorney.

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