An opportunity to give back while being a stay-at-home mom has grown into many opportunities for Emily Johnson to help area children.
Johnson stayed at home from the time her daughter, Addilyn, was born in 2007 until her son, Reid, began kindergarten in 2016. She saw a post on Facebook asking for a volunteer backpack driver for Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland.
“I felt like this was something I could do while being a stay-at-home mom and get me out of the house a little every week,” she said.
A driver collects bags of food at Feeding America to take to different schools in the county one day a week.
“Sounded simple enough,” she said, adding she started when Reid was 1 year old.
“I’d load him up in a little red wagon and load the boxes of food on the other end and we would deliver to schools.”
Johnson considers the Backpack Program at Feeding America, a blessing to area schools to help children who are food insecure.
In 2013, she became volunteer coordinator for the program.
“Once someone asks me about the program, it’s all I can do not to go into overdrive,” she said. “It’s truly a big part of my heart.”
If kids are hungry, she said, they can’t concentrate or do school work and struggle to succeed.
“Knowing that one bag of non-perishable foods goes home with them every Friday to help feed them through the weekend until they go back to school on Monday makes me feel like maybe I’m helping them succeed a little,” Johnson said. “On Wednesdays as I drive down the road to the schools that I deliver to, I pray for the kids who will receive a bag of food that I am delivering.”
She prays the food makes them feel blessed, supported and safe, she said.
When schools closed for in-person classes in March, Johnson worked with the schools and Feeding America on how to supply food to the more than 700 kids in the backpack program.
“I called in reinforcements and that first week I was amazed and speechless as I watched truck after truck roll into the parking lot of Feeding America and load up box after box of food to take to all the schools in Hardin County and E’town Independent,” she said.
While the world could not see beyond the pandemic, Johnson said she saw love and Jesus in every volunteer.
The first week of backpack delivery this school year for Hardin County Schools began last Wednesday and she said they soon will resume in Elizabethtown schools.
“Emily is the kind of person who sees a need and immediately tries to figure out a way to help,” said her friend Kat Hubbard. “One of her passions and talents is feeding others – from baking cookies for a friend that’s having a rough day to making sure children don’t go hungry during a school break – Emily will do whatever it takes to make sure people know that she cares for them.”
Last year, Johnson and her husband Josh started working with Affordable Christmas. They headed up the effort at their church, Grace Heartland.
“Affordable Christmas empowers low-income families with the opportunity to purchase gifts at an affordable price,” she said. “This allows parents to purchase gifts for their children while maintaining their dignity as providers for their family.”
She said it took a lot of work and volunteers to help this work.
“But to see parents shop for their children for Christmas for things that otherwise they may not have, to hear their stories, know they were just going through a tough time and we were helping relieve a little of their stress was what the spirit of Christmas was really about,” she said. “I remember leaving the church that afternoon after the event feeling like I could conquer the world.”
She took that experience to bring Tools for School to life. It was something she wanted to do for a few years and made it happen last month.
“Christmas isn’t the only time of year that people need a little help,” she said. “Back-to-school shopping was the next biggest financial hit that I felt most families go through.”
Her goal was for students to be able to shop for all their school supplies which can include a backpack, lunch box, folders, pencils, crayons, earbuds, paper, scissors and the extra supplies they are asked to buy each year. They not only left with a bag full of supplies but also, thanks to church and community sponsors, new clothes and shoes, she said, adding they also received a haircut if they wanted.
She said her husband works with her in all these programs as a team.
“I joke I come up with these great ideas and voice them to Josh and then he makes them happen,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun to work together on these ministries and to show our kids that no matter what age or stage of life, anyone can help.”
Grace Heartland children’s minister Ashley Purcell said Johnson has a heart for the community, especially those that are at-risk.
“She is one of those people who sees a need and doesn’t wait for someone else to fill it,” Purcell said. “She rolls up her sleeves, gathers the needed resources and man-power and just gets it done.”
Johnson also works with children at Grace Heartland, is PTA president at G.C. Burkhead Elementary School, booster club president for Central Hardin golf and teaches an infant massage class at Clarity Solutions for Women.
“It doesn’t have to take all your time or a lot of money to volunteer,” Johnson said. “Find something you are passionate about or think you might like and watch that passion happen.”