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Food and Mood Project: SAMHSA Regions 7 & 8, and USDA FNS Mountain Plains Region

SAMHSA Regions 7 and 8, in partnership with the Mountain Plains USDA FNS office, are facilitating a collaborative of state, tribal and community behavioral health, education, nutrition, food insecurity, school garden, and related experts working in the Regions.

  • About the Project

    The link between consistent access to nourishing, culturally diverse food sources and children and youth emotional wellness is well documented. Despite a paucity of research on the behavioral health impacts of school gardens, anecdotal evidence from multiple sources indicates that school gardens promote social and emotional learning and may serve as a resource in mitigating the impacts of behavioral health issues in children and youth.

  • Contact Us

    Traci Pole
    Region 8 Assistant Regional Administrator
    Byron Rogers Federal Building
    1961 Stout Street, 11th Floor
    Denver, CO 80294
    (303) 844-1205

  • As part of an emphasis on emotional wellness in school settings, an examination of the impacts of access to nutritious, culturally diverse food is an important component in delivering services that support the whole individual through a health equity and strengths-based lens.

    USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service partners with state and tribal governments to administer 15 Federal Nutrition Assistance Programs. FNS serves one in four Americans during a year, and co-develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans with the HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

  • Our Goal

    Promote emotional wellness and reduce the impact of mental health and substance use issues in the SAMHSA Regions 7 and 8, and USDA FNS Mountain Plains Region, K-12 population through identifying and implementing strategies that address the intersection between behavioral health and food/food insecurity/cultural food diversity/school gardens.


    To provide leadership and resources – programs, policies, information and data, funding, and personnel – advance mental and substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery services in order to improve individual, community, and public health.


    SAMHSA’s mission is to lead public health and service delivery efforts that promote mental health, prevent substance misuse, and provide treatments and supports to foster recovery while ensuring equitable access and better outcomes. Our mission is to increase food security and reduce hunger by providing children and low-income people access to food, a healthful diet and nutrition education in a way that supports American agriculture and inspires public confidence. No American should have to go hungry.

  • Food and Mood Planning Committee

    The various roles of the Planning Committee include:

    • Establishing the Food & Mood project and maintaining the parameters and scope of the project
    • Advancing and coordinating work with subcommittees
    • Facilitating Food & Mood listserv
    • Maintaining Food & Mood webpage
    • Organizing and hosting semi-annual Food and Mood Town Halls
    • Logistics coordination for three subcommittees
    • Conducting literature reviews
    • Maintaining SharePoint and contact lists
    • Scheduling meetings, taking meeting minutes, polls
    • Identifying speakers and agenda preparation

    The Planning Committee members are:

    • Traci Pole: Assistant Regional Administrator SAMHSA - Region 8,
    • Marissa Thomas: Assistant Regional Administrator SAMHSA - Region 7,
    • Gina O’Brian: Regional Senior/Lead Nutritionist, USDA-FNS MPRO,
    • Jason Olig: Nutritionist - School Nutrition Branch, USDA-FNS MPRO,
    • Susana Calderon: Regional Women’s Health Analyst, OASH Office of Regional Health Operations, Region 8,
    • Katie Chustak: Virtual Student Federal Service Intern
    • Steven McDowell: Virtual Student Federal Service Intern

    The virtual collaborative includes biannual large group town hall discussions, as well as smaller subcommittees comprised of federal, tribal, state, local public and private partners.


This subcommittee will identify/develop/promote resources and strategies that address food security/equity to protect and support emotional wellness, as well as for mitigating the short and long-term impacts of food insecurity/inequity on emotional wellness/substance misuse.

Co-Chairs: Gary Henault, Director of Children’s Services, Division of Behavioral Health Services, Kansas Department of Disability and Aging Services, and, Malissa Martin, President and CEO of Communities in Schools of Mid-America

This subcommittee will identify/develop/promote resources and strategies that leverage access to and promote menus that reflect culturally diverse food/food sovereignty to protect and support emotional wellness, as well to help mitigate historical trauma and the short and long-term behavioral health impacts of lack of access to local/sustainable and culturally appropriate food.

Co-Chairs: Shannon Udy, Health Educator, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board, and Greg Donovan, Director, Society of Care

This subcommittee will identify/develop/promote resources and strategies that leverage food and gardening/farming as self-care/emotional wellness promotion, in contrast to popular culture messaging that may be associated with negative body image and associated mental illness/substance use disorders.

Co-Chairs: Rachel Jones, Acting Director of Children’s Services & Manager of Trauma Informed Treatment, Missouri Department of Mental Health - Division of Behavioral Health, and, Heather Hauswirth, Farm to Early Care & Education Program Specialist, Boulder County Public Health

Last Updated

Last Updated: 11/22/2022