Through the years, we’ve worked with exceptional individuals who understand local challenges facing their communities, and have the passion and the vision to create opportunities where people can make healthy choices where they live, work, learn, play and pray. We’re recognizing these individuals, who have been nominated by their peers and colleagues, to showcase their commitment to making the healthy choice, the easy choice.
Jack Johnson is cooking up healthy, delicious meals for students in Barnwell, South Carolina. Johnson is the Food Service Director for Barnwell School Districts 45 and 19, where he is committed to providing students with nutritious meals to fuel their learning. Johnson works with countless programs and initiatives, from the Smarter Lunch Room Movement, to the Extended Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) with Clemson Extension in District 19, to holding healthy foods taste tests and cooking demonstrations in District 45.
Two initiatives that Johnson particularly enjoys working with are the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program, which is funded by a Department of Education grant, and the kitchen gardens he has built at some elementary schools.
“I like the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program in District 19, Johnson said. “We usually give out two fruits and two vegetables each week, either between breakfast and lunch or between lunch and going home in the afternoon. That way when kids start to get a little tired, teachers can give the kids some fresh fruit to wake them back up. I think that’s one of the best programs we have going right now.”
Johnson also enjoys working with elementary school students in kitchen gardens, where he grows collards, kale, thyme, blueberries, and more. “I bought some start plants, and the students came and planted the collards and mustard greens. Later we hosted a taste test with those,” Johnson explained. “The kids were really excited about it. Where I live has a lot of farms, but the kids don’t have the opportunity to learn about gardening.”
Eileen Staples is the Executive Director of Culinary Partners, yet another program Johnson partners with. Describing Johnson’s work, Staples said, “Jack strives to improve the quality of meals for the children of Barnwell County. He has introduced healthier initiatives to increase participation in school meals. He has also been proactive in obtaining grant funding to assist in meeting his goals. With limited funds in his budget, he has been successful in utilizing his skills to bring additional revenue to the districts.”
When asked why he enjoys his work, Johnson replied, “I do it for the kids. I’m at a point in my life where my focus is to give back. I just try to help as many people as I can now.” Johnson continued, “I like working with the children, showing them how to cook, dressing them up like little chefs. You have to pass along your knowledge, and that’s what I’m trying to do with the kids.”