Dalla Emerson took a moment Thursday to step away from the newly refurbished, bright purple school bus outfitted with dining-car style seats that will serve as the Bowling Green Independent School District’s mobile cafeteria this summer.
Pausing to speak with the Daily News, BGISD’s director of food service operations seemed awestruck by the sight.
Volunteers and school district staff swirled around the bus, parked outside Bowling Green Junior High School, as they unboxed and loaded packaged meals bound for neighborhoods around Dishman-McGinnis Elementary School.
“It’s just a beauty,” Emerson said of the bus, which underwent a revamp by the Final Finish body shop in Morgantown.
Emerson made multiple trips to Butler County to oversee progress. Each time she “watched the dream that I had on my vision board come to life,” she said. When it was finally completed at the shop this week, she half-jokingly described the sight as something akin to a beatific vision.
“The clouds opened. … It was just amazing. It was smiles from ear to ear,” she said.
The new “purple lunch box” bus – as she calls it – has been a long-term project for Emerson, one she’s gleefully described at school board meetings.
When cases of COVID-19 began surging in Kentucky this spring, ultimately prompting schools to shut down in mid-March, plans to debut the bus this summer were somewhat dampened, but Emerson was undaunted.
Over the next several weeks, the summer meals bus will roll out along each of the district’s 13 food delivery routes, Emerson said, and the bus could play a role in whatever form instruction happens to take in the fall.
“We’re just going to try to incorporate it in the district as much as possible so the kids know that it’s their bus,” she told the Daily News, adding that her hope for next summer is that “every kid gets a chance to be in it.”
The summer meals bus is air conditioned and equipped with refrigeration units. On Thursday, it was used to deliver fresh vegetables and pizza kits for families to assemble and cook at home.
“We’re hoping to name it soon,” Emerson said of the bus. Before the disruption caused by COVID-19, the idea was to get the district’s students involved with the naming, she said.
Meal assistance is needed more this summer than any other.
A lot of families in the community have been hit hard by loss of work, Emerson said, and some unemployment benefit checks still haven’t arrived months after applying.
Last week, during the first week of the district’s summer meals program, the school district distributed about 35,000 meals, Emerson said.
Among those receiving food deliveries Thursday was Teresa Bluette, who said they’ve been helpful for her grandchildren and others in her community.
“The buses being here, that helps a lot,” she said. “Where the buses are running, there’s people that don’t have cars or anything.”
Melanie Edison, a Warren County Public Schools bus driver who helped distribute meals Thursday through the district’s School Bus Cafe, shares that view.
“A lot of children eat two meals a day at school, and if they don’t have the feeding programs, they wouldn’t eat at all,” said Edison, who’s been a bus driver since 2008. “This is a good program because it gives children at least food for the days that we don’t come.”
Throughout this spring, Edison has also been delivering meals to children at Lee Pointe, her regular route.
“I drive for Lee Pointe everyday so I know all the students. I know the little brothers, the little sisters. I know all of them. I know the parents,” she said, adding it’s felt good to get back to some semblance of normal with work. “I love my job … I do a lot of field trips, and I miss sports.”
By launching its summer meals program this week, WCPS Director of Food Services and Nutrition Gina Howard said the district has added an additional bus for meal deliveries and new sites at Moss Middle School and Natcher Elementary School. Already, the district is on track to distribute 14,000 meals this week, Howard said.
“We’re looking forward to seeing people out in the community,” she said, even in the face of social distancing restrictions. “Although we can’t talk to people as much as we did in the past, we still like to build a relationship with them.”
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.