Inter Milan football star Antonio Candreva has stepped in to pay school meal fees for a girl from a poor immigrant family who was given tuna and crackers instead of the normal lunch.
Italian media say the girl burst into tears when she was given the reduced lunch, at a primary school near Verona.
“I’m ready to help the parents pay the canteen,” Candreva told the mayor of Minerbe, 35km (22 miles) from Verona.
A political row erupted, as the mayor is in the anti-immigration League.
The League’s most prominent politician is Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, in a populist coalition government with anti-establishment Five Star.
Minerbe’s Mayor Andrea Girardi said the girl’s reduced meal of tuna and crackers was simply a gesture of “correctness towards the families who pay the [canteen] fee regularly”.
The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) accused the authorities of “a discriminatory choice”.
Reports say other children ate pasta and a second dish, while the girl just had tinned tuna and crackers.
The story went viral on Italian social media and it emerged that other children from poor immigrant families faced a similar predicament at the school.
In some cases, according to the daily La Repubblica, teachers gave their lunches to children whose parents could not afford the canteen fee.
Mayor Girardi, quoted by Corriere della Sera (in Italian), said “we’re helping about 30 families who are in difficulties at that school”.
Explaining the school meals policy, he said: “We face dozens of insolvent parents and can’t cover the costs. So we decided on a line that could move things on.
“We didn’t want to get to this point, but we risked failing to provide meals for the families who did pay regularly.”
Minerbe’s PD councillors were quoted as saying: “How can you call it fair, when a primary school girl is humiliated because her parents are in arrears?”