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CEO donates $15,000 to fired lunch lady

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POCATELLO — Dalene Bowden, the District 25 lunch lady who was fired last week for giving a free lunch to a hungry student, and then offered her job back Wednesday after tens of thousands of petitioners demanded that she be rehired, was overcome with emotion Thursday.

Aegis Living founder and CEO Dwayne Clark contacted Bowden on Christmas Eve and donated $15,000 to her cause.

Clark operates assisted living centers throughout the Western states. He is also the author of “My Mother, My Son,” which follows his mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.

Clark currently lives in the Seattle area. But he grew up in Lewiston in a household managed by a single mom. And Clark said a lot of lunch ladies helped him out with free meals.

“Compassion and common sense deserve to be rewarded, that’s why I did this,” Clark said Thursday.

A gofundme site also raised more than $19,300 for Bowden.

Bowden said her niece started the gofundme site at https://www.gofundme.com/9gfrtcss.

“I was mad at her for doing it at first and I can’t believe that people out there were so generous,” Bowden said. “It just touches my heart.”

She plans to use part of that money to challenge the district’s policy and her wrongful dismissal.

Bowden was notified last week she had been fired via a registered letter that said it was due to her theft of school district property.

On Wednesday, Interim Superintendent Doug Howell said in the spirit of the holiday the district was offering Bowden her job back.

But Bowden said she has concerns about returning to her position as a lunch lady at Irving Middle School.

“I’m afraid they will make my life miserable and then set me up or find some other way to get rid of me,” Bowden said.

So Bowden asked her supporters on Facebook to weigh in on whether or not they thought she should go back to work for District 25.

Within minutes more than 40 people had weighed in:

“Only if they are going to give you a very nice raise. I’ve worked for them in my hometown and I know that lunch ladies don’t make a lot. Going to the schools there when I was younger they don’t get a lot of respect either,” one reader wrote.

Another reader posted “I was a lunch lady for many years. I know that the district did you wrong but my own opinion is for you to accept your position back. Those kids love you. You know that being a lunch lady is more than just feeding kids. You get to know them. Know their likes and dislikes. You are able to tell when they are having a bad day. Sometimes you are the only bright side of their day. Ultimately the decision is yours and yours alone.”

“I think you should consult with an attorney on this, not with strangers on Facebook,” one reader wrote. “If you truly love your job, but yet knowing there is a possibility that working conditions may not be favorable after this incident, then go for it. I truly believe that you are going to be offered a new job or jobs after this. So give this a lot of thought in making a decision. Best of luck to you! Merry Christmas.”

That’s already happened. Clark offered her a job and Bowden has received more than a dozen job offers since her story went viral.

Bowden’s story went viral when it appeared in the Journal last week. It has been picked up by the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom, FOX News, “Inside Edition,” TV stations nationwide, Glenn Beck’s network, the Blaze, and media throughout Idaho. It was also the No. 1 trending story on Facebook nationwide on Wednesday afternoon.

Bowden wiped away tears Thursday and said she was overwhelmed by the response.

“It’s just unbelievable,” she said. “There are a lot of really caring and wonderful people in the world.”

Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad met with Howell Wednesday and said the city was inundated with calls and social media posts regarding Bowden’s firing.

Blad said Wednesday that he likes to look for the silver lining in every cloud, and he was pleased that the district was able to resolve the controversy.

About 6,500 children in District 25 receive reduced or free hot lunches daily, which is about 53 percent of all students in D-25.

This story was originally published in the Idaho State Journal. It is used here with permission.

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