A Dream, A Vision, A Memory

Once upon a time (in 2004), we met a young boy named Justin, a nephew of one of our employees. He was 12-years-old and had been diagnosed with brain cancer. He wanted to take a tour of the salsa factory and who better to give it than Willy Wonka himself, aka Jack Aronson, with his larger-than-life personality and indelible passion for salsa, chips, hummus and dips.

He walked Justin through the plant in pure Jack fashion, recreating the story and operation with vigor, excitement and unbridled energy. Justin asked questions with a look of enchantment on his face. Their combined enthusiasm was contagious.

Justin connected with Jack and vice versa, two beautiful souls creating a bond. After the tour, Jack took his family to spy shops and magic shops and performed a few coin tricks he’s honed over the years as a father and uncle. Justin’s favorite buys were the shocking gum and the laughing pig.

Jack and Annette learned that Justin was receiving care at Children’s Hospital but, unfortunately, there wasn’t anything the doctors could do to cure his illness. The staff at Children’s told the Aronsons of a place in Florida called Give Kids the World, a 70-acre storybook resort. Located near Central Florida’s most beloved attractions, it’s a place where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families are treated to a weeklong, cost-free fantasy vacation. Together with Dave Zilko, the Aronsons put together the funds and sent Justin and his family to the all-inclusive resort.

Justin Hermansen at Give Kids the World

Justin Hermansen at Give Kids the World

Shortly after returning, Justin Hermansen passed away.

“There are some who bring a light so great to the world that even after they have gone, the light remains.” ~ Author Unknown

Children’s Hospital & the Healing Garden

Justin’s positive energy, youthful spirit and gentle soul made such a profound impact on all of us here at Garden Fresh. So much in fact, it prompted us to become involved with Children’s Hospital. After a humbling tour of their facility and a heartfelt conversation with staff, the partnership began. We started donating a portion of the proceeds of our salsa sales to the hospital and became the major supporter of a healing garden built on the grounds, which opened in 2007.

Garden Fresh Healing Garden at Children's Hospital

Justin’s Vision

Fast forward to October 2010.

Michael, Justin’s brother, sent Jack an email.

“It’s Michael Hermansen, Justin’s older brother. I remember about six years ago, Garden Fresh Salsa did so much for my family and me. I was 14-years-old then. From the trip to Florida to the visits at the Ferndale Plant, my family and I got to experience a lot. I just wanted you and everyone else who made that trip possible for our family to know that it was something very special for me and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

Michael continued to thank him and tell him what an impact that trip had on him.

They exchanged a couple of emails and before you know it, Michael was sitting in Dave Zilko’s office, catching up on the last six years. He again talked about how special the trip to Give Kids the World was and how grateful he felt for the memories. He also talked about how the Healing Garden touched his heart and led him to where he sat that fateful day. Michael realized he wanted to dedicate his life to fulfilling the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses and their families to experience a memorable, joyful, cost-free visit to the Central Florida attractions, and to enjoy the magic of Give Kids The World Village.

Justin’s Vision was born.

Paul and Michael Hermansen at the Motown Macdown

“For a glorious five days, we had not a care beyond what we would do to enjoy our time together.” ~ Give Kids the World family

We are proud to support several charities that are near and dear to our hearts and the community at large, like Justin’s Vision. It begins with a story and reason why the relationship took root within our collective core. And it’s our team, volunteers, partners, friends and family that make the giving even more magical, enabling us to support these important causes on a larger level. For that, we are forever grateful.

For more information, visit Justin’s Vision.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002595937209 Ashley Watson

    Justin was my cousin and I remember all Garden Fresh and Jack did for him and his family! I remember the tour, the magic tricks (which he used on many of us!) , and I have kept that special laughing pig he used to play over and over again… I am glad to see other children being helped in his memory.                      Ashley