• December 1st, 2020

It is estimated that over 50 million people, including 17 million children, will be food insecure in 2020. Honors College alumna, Theresa Mince, is doing her part to alleviate hunger in her community in Lake County, Indiana which ranks 74th out of 92 counties in overall health outcomes.  Overall health outcomes measure the physical and mental health of the residents in a county.

“As a Community Wellness Coordinator, I work on community-level policies, systems and environmental changes to make healthy choices more accessible in low-income areas. We focus on nutrition, food insecurity, physical activity, food safety and food resource management. What this looks like in practice is creating and implementing school wellness policies, healthy food pantries, community gardens and much more,” said Mince.

Mince is a CWC with the Purdue Extension Nutrition Education Program. She explained the program is “the SNAP-Ed implementing agency for the state of Indiana, meaning we are federally funded to provide nutrition education and create policy, systems and environmental changes for those who qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), or what is commonly known as food stamps, so they are more likely to make healthy food and lifestyle choices.”

Given that all of Mince’s work is community-based, her days look much different now compared to pre-pandemic. Some programs could be adapted to fit a virtual environment. But many initiatives that rely on face-to-face communication and in-person work had to come to a halt like the school-based food pantries and mindfulness/movement rooms.

Mince’s day-to-day activities shifted as well as she has been working from home since March with minimal community meetings. When she is out in the field, everyone is wearing masks and staying at least ten feet apart while tending to community gardens that have been instrumental in maintaining access to food for many of her Lake County neighbors.

Additionally, Mince is coordinating the distribution of thousands of pounds of food each week through the Farmers to Families program, which is part of the federal COVID relief package. “We have worked with a local small business that donates their time and space to unload a semi-truck load of food boxes each week, and then have 45 different organizations pick up a portion of the load to distribute out to the community,” said Mince.

School districts, childcare centers, healthcare providers, housing sites and other non-traditional partners were intentionally chosen to be pick-up sites to remove as many access barriers as possible.  “This is one of the first initiatives in which I have been involved where so many partners from so many different sectors have come together around a common goal. It is so encouraging to see these organizations connect and share resources, and we expect to build on this collaborative momentum moving forward. Food insecurity is skyrocketing and will still get much worse before it gets better, so I look forward to working with this group to come up with solutions that address it directly in our communities.”

Mince projected that by the end of 2020, they will have provided over 620,000 pounds of food to the Lake County community.


So, what can be done in each of our local communities to combat food insecurity and hunger? Mince shared a few tips for how you can give back wherever you are.

If you’re an Honors College alum living in Indiana, reach out to Theresa. Her organization operates state-wide, and they are always looking for new community partners and volunteers.

If you’re not a Hoosier, you can contact your local SNAP-Ed implementing agency to find out how you can support their work. There are incredible teams of folks all over the country doing the work to address health equity in our most under-resourced communities.

Additionally, Mince shared that the biggest needs of the non-profit partners across the country are financial support and volunteers. “Most non-profits and social service agencies operate on tight budgets with skeleton crews of employees,” said Mince. She advised making an impact locally by finding small non-profits and donating if you are able.

“If you don’t have the funds to help, but you do have a few extra hours in your week, call those same organizations and ask, ‘what can I do?’ Sometimes, it’s weeding a garden or delivering meals. It could be helping out in a teacher’s classroom, or even filing papers or scanning documents. Never underestimate the value of a few hours of an extra set of hands. Volunteers add capacity for these organizations. You are valuable and you are valued. Reach out and see what they need. It might not be very exciting work, but it’s sure going to make a big difference,” said Mince.

It is clear that Theresa Mince has found her passion in combatting hunger and food insecurity and inequity. She gave this advice to current Honors College students: “Don’t be afraid to engage with all of the opportunities available to you. College is a time to really find your passions and run with them.”


For more information about the Purdue Extension Nutrition Education Program, visit their website.

Not in the Lake County area? Click here find your local SNAP-Ed implementing agency.