The forgotten frontline workers: Granite School District bus drivers feel grateful to deliver meals to students

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KEARNS, Utah (ABC4 News) — Susan Nielsen has been driving school buses for 29 years, and she never anticipated that her job would include what it does today.

Due to Utah’s soft closure of schools, Nielsen no longer drives children to and from school, but she, along with many other school bus drivers across the state, helps out by dropping off school meals to students along her bus route.

“All of the bus drivers that I’ve talked with are so grateful that we’ve been able to do this for the children and their families,” Nielsen said.

An average work day for Nielsen begins with going to the school to pick up lunches which the cafeteria workers have assembled. Nielsen works with Quentin Gidson, another driver, to load the lunches on the bus before going to their first stop.

“We’re a pretty good team here- the two of us,” she said. “We hand out around 100 lunches for 22 stops everyday. We’re just very happy to help. It utilizes our time and gives us a purpose at this time.”

Nielsen said something she and Gidson have started doing to make things quicker and easier for the families is putting the milk boxes, which originally come in crates, into the lunch packets so that all they need to do is hand out the lunches.

Nielsen said she feels for the families who are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When I first got married, we didn’t have tons of money and if this would’ve happened back then, it would have been really difficult for us to feed our children,” she said. “I think about how I would’ve been affected by this. I’m fortunate enough to have had the same job for as long as I’ve had. I have no little kids at home, and I don’t think people realize just the stress and the pressure it would be on families if we didn’t do this, and that’s what keep us going.”

She said her favorite thing about her job now is that it keeps her in a routine and has given her a purpose and something to look forward to everyday.

“I’ve got to tell you something about us bus drivers- we need this because we love these children,” Nielsen said. “We love these families- we get to know these areas and these people, and we are just grateful that we are able to help out at a time when there’s not much of anything else we can do.

Nielsen said she is fortunate because she is able to drop off lunches to the students along her normal bus route.

“They come back and say, “Hi Susie.” They’re happy to see us. It gives them a little field trip from their home every day. It’s a good situation.”

When asked about other’s concerns about handing out the meals while social distancing, Nielsen said providing the lunches is a necessity.

“There’re a lot of people- they’ve relied on the school system and the lunches and the breakfast program to feed their children, and that is a real, true thing,” she said. “They say one in five children go without food, and to me, that’s ridiculous. We’re a rich nation, and no child should ever go without food.”

Every child in the area knows that the bus drivers are handing out lunches and breakfasts everyday, Nielsen said.

“It’s fantastic for the community. I can’t say anything better about it and the bus drivers that are doing it. Every one of them are so grateful that they are able to do something at this time. We truly love the kids and we love our job.”

May 22 is the last day of school, and at that time, the district will move to their traditional summer food service program, said Ben Horsley, Communications Director for the Granite School District. At that time, meals will be available at local parks for eligible students.

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