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“School nutrition professionals have a natural knack for solving and overcoming,” says Joe Pettit of Charleston schools. “We solve changing obstacles and hurdle each one with relative grace like a JV track team. However, we overcome because like gold-medal Olympians, we never lose sight of the finish line…serving our students and making sure they are nourished and feel loved.”

Stories from the front lines: Joe Pettit of Charleston schools is a motivational speaker/school food pro who’s drawing on his optimistic spirit and sense of fun

The food service team at Charleston (SC) County School District is in week five of feeding kids, fine-tuning service models, lifting spirits and dealing with the ever-changing “challenge du jour.”

Joe Pettit is known in the school nutrition community online as a charming Southern school food guy who posts on social media with his own super-positive messages and inspirational quotes, what he calls a “daily cup of Joe.” At a time when school foodservice professionals must fill their cup daily with energy, patience and heart, Pettit is in the thick of it at Charleston County School District (CCSD), where he’s nutrition services officer.

In addition to launching a second-act career as a motivational speaker a couple of years ago, Pettit has just recently a new web series, Cup of Joe. The going is tough these days, but Pettit can often be found around the district’s commissaries and parking lots, joking, singing and generally showing the world what’s possible when the glass is half full. Here’s his personal account:

Joe_Pettit_of_Charleston_schools.jpgPhoto credit: Joe Pettit, a school food professional in Charleston, S.C., started a second career as a motivational speaker.

“Charleston County School District, like many districts nationwide, is trying to make the best with today’s current situation. We began non-congregant meal service on Monday, March 16. While our model continues to evolve, our focus stays the same: serving our students while keeping them and our team safe.

We started with 15 schools serving curbside only Monday through Friday. We made a big change two days in and launched a massive school bus delivery to more than 60 stops throughout the community.

Now in our fifth week, we continue reaching more students as we transition to a three-day-a-week model, which is decreasing how often students, families and our team are forced to interact. The main challenge has been the fact that there isn’t a ‘main challenge.’ What seems to be the ‘challenge du jour’ is always changing.


“The most encouraging part is how I’ve seen our team grow stronger together,” says Joe Pettit of Charleston schools. “Each person pulls their weight and helps others. They show up every day and give their best, even when it means putting their own life (literally) on the line. I’ve seen kindness increase and genuine compassion shine amidst all this craziness.”

The first challenge du jour was [vegetable] subgroups (solved—thank you, SCDOE). Then, it was social distancing measures (solved—thanks to signs telling everyone to back off!). Next, it was masks (solved—thank you CCSD Nursing Services and a local who donated handmade cloth masks). And most recently, we had tornadoes and severe weather which caused a four-hour delay (solved—thank you CCSD Nutrition Services for not throwing in the towel but rather we got back up and kept moving forward.)

We try to keep our team safe by checking their temperature before and after their shift. We emphasize constant hand washing, always using gloves, changing gloves, keeping social distance everywhere possible. And having fun. I sing and crack jokes with them because I know they’re stressed and if I can help alleviate this in some small way, they’ll be healthier and serve our students better.”

As told to Tara Fitzpatrick on April 14, 2020.

Contact Tara at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie

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