Hearing feedback from students about school meals may not sound like the most welcome conversation, but Dalla Emerson embraces it. “I just love hearing from them, the good the bad, the ugly... Because at the end of the day, our focus is our students. That’s the one thing I try to preach over everything else: we have to put our students first — every day, in every action we take. I tell my team that I don’t care how the kids got to school, once they’re here, they are ours to love and take care of.” Dalla and her staff have even formed food committees to incorporate the input and continuously engage students in menu planning.
In keeping with her student-first approach, Dalla recognized too many kids weren’t eating at school, citing time constraints as their excuse. To combat the situation, she created grab-and-go stations where anyone can easily take a snack or meal with them on their way to class. The choices at those stations aren’t just boring, prepackaged options. The bento boxes with fruit, cheese, and a protein that Dalla has menued have been very popular with students and teachers alike. Plus, they serve sandwiches made with Pillsbury™ Croissants, Pillsbury™ Muffins, Pillsbury™ Frudels and more.
The grab-and-go stations are just one example of Dalla striving every day to deliver what her students needs. Another way she has been able to meet her students where they are takes shape as a big, purple bus. It’s her diner on wheels. The Purple Bus is used during the school year for different promotional events, but during the summer is when it sees the most action, serving up snacks and meals to underprivileged communities. “When it goes to the library, there are kids already waiting,” said Dalla. “There’s this contagious energy from the students, and I can’t describe the feeling. It’s just so fulfilling.”
The entire community was put to the test last December when a tornado ripped through Bowling Green. The morning following the disaster, Dalla headed to work to see what she could do to start feeding those in need. With an outpouring of support from teachers and others, they were able to begin serving food by early afternoon. There was such a strong response, she eventually had to turn away volunteers and direct them to help elsewhere. Dalla recollects, “Seeing the humanity of it all and the trust they put into us... It was a beautiful moment in the midst of a tragedy.”
Dalla’s compassion, drive, leadership, and enthusiasm are abundantly clear to all those around her. Teah Collins is a customer account specialist with General Mills and has worked with Dalla for years. She says, “I could go on and on about Dalla's accomplishments, but to me, it's her HEART that truly makes her a TrayBlazer. Dalla's main and inherent goal is to feed the children healthy and delicious, freshly cooked meals. Participation is key and she knows that better than anyone. I am honored to call her a friend and a colleague.” We couldn’t agree more. Thanks, Dalla, for all you do.
Be sure to follow along on their journey!