EMERADO, N.D. -- Kids and their dogs greeted a smiling Michelle Carrera as she stepped off the school bus to deliver meals on a cold, wet May day.
It was the first stop of about 25 Carrera has made five days a week since March 17. She delivers breakfasts and lunches to about 85 children who live within the borders of the Emerado Public School District. Carrera is part of a five-woman team who gather at 11:20 a.m., Monday through Friday, at Emerado Public School to pack breakfast and lunches before Carrera drives her daily route.
On March 16, the day after North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced that schools would be closed in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus, the Emerado mother of seven, step-mother of four children and grandmother of five was one of the first school employees to volunteer for lunch packing and delivery duty.
“It warms my heart, feeding our kids,” Carrera said. “I’m grateful God is keeping me safe and healthy so I’m able to come and help.”
Twila Vettel, Emerado Public School assistant cook, said Carrera has the kind of personality with whom the school meals team members enjoy working .
“She’s just a cheery, bubbly person,” Vettel said. “She greets us in the morning. She greets people out on the route.”
Carrera hails the dogs on her route, too.
“No Gunner,” she kindly, yet firmly, told a muddy golden retriever who looked ready to jump on Carrera to be petted when she got off the bus to make a meals delivery.
Gunner heeded Carrera’s command as she walked up to the door of a rural Emerado house, two plastic bags of breakfast in her left hand and two foam trays filled with lunch in her right.
Carrera handed the trays to a woman who opened the door, then put the plastic bags in a container by the door as Gunner stood behind her, wagging his tail.
Back on the bus, Carrera explained that Gunner had sometimes sneaked on board when she picked up students and dropped them off during the school year. Carrera has worked for Emerado Public School for four years, and besides driving a bus route, is a custodian at the schools with an enrollment of about 120 just west of Grand Forks.
“She goes where needed.” Vettel said. “In a small school we wear many hats.”
Or, in the case of lunch delivery, a mask and disposable gloves.
“She’s so willing to go out there and do it,” Vettel said. “She’s got a kind, positive attitude. I appreciate Michelle’s dedication to our school and community.”
It’s evident on another meal stop, Carrera’s delivery is a bright spot in the day for the children on her meal route.
“HI Leah, hi Emma,” Carrera said, as two girls appeared at the door, eager, to see what food she had brought them that day.
After Carrera hands the second grader and kindergartener their meals, she waved a cheery goodbye, then boarded the bus.
She settled into her seat for the ride to the next stop.
“I love doing this. I love seeing the kids."