Healthy Eating Lifestyle Principles (HELP), founded in 2004 by Basil Mills, president of Mills Family Farms, Salinas, Calif., has recently incorporated as an independent 501c (3) organization and named its first board of directors.

HELP is a nonprofit organization working to combat the obesity epidemic and encourage increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Under the leadership of executive director Mike Pippi, the company promotes healthy eating and physical activity in our schools and in our community, offering free nutrition education classes and wellness programs and tools to schools and businesses throughout Monterey County.

The organization's directors include leaders from agriculture, healthcare, education, government departments and community service agencies. "HELP is a conduit organization bringing community leaders together to work actively in partnership to grow a healthier community," said HELP executive director Mike Pippi.

Board members include:

Leslie Sunny, executive director, Food Bank for Monterey County; Tricia Vincent, chief clinical dietitian, C.H.O.M.P.; Alan Mello, Mello Media; Beverly Ranzenberger, senior VP/COO, Salinas Valley Memorial Health Care System.

Cynthia Poole, chief clinical dietician, Salinas Valley Memorial Health Care System; Nancy Kotowski, associate superintendent, Educational Services Division, Monterey County Office of Education; Basil Mills, president, Mills Family Farms.

Donna Ferraro, executive director, Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County; Jim Bogart, executive director, Grower Shipper Association; John R. Baillie, Jack T. Baillie Co.; Gina Marie Nucci, director of Food Service Marketing, Mann Packing Co.

Jim Nakashima, executive director, Housing Authority of Monterey County; Cindy Weigelt, executive director, American Heart Association; Rhonda Williams, Realtor; Mike Pippi, president/executive director, Healthy Eating Lifestyle Principles.

HELP began as an agricultural initiative and existed in its first year as part of the Grower-Shipper Association Foundation. An agriculture advisory council now assists HELP in working to increase access to and consumption of fresh produce, particularly in our schools. Ag council members include:

Rod Braga, managing partner, Braga Ranch; Jerry Esquivel, president, Chieftain Harvesting; Butch Massa, vice president, Comgro; Martin Orradre, CEO, Cream of the Crop; John R. Baillie, Jack T. Baillie Co.

Sig V. Christierson, president, Major Farms; Kay Filice, owner, Filice Farms; Basil Mills, president, Mills Family Farms; Joe Pezzini, vice president Operations, Ocean Mist Farms; Tom Church, president, Church Brothers, LLC

John D’Arrigo, president, D’Arrigo Bros. of California; John Manfre, member, Capurro Marketing, LLC; Gina Nucci, director of Food Service, Mann Packing Co. and Johnny A. Silva, general manager, Silva Farms

Current programs

Current HELP programs include the Wellness Policy Parity Program for 22 regional school districts, helping schools meet a federal mandate to enact wellness policies and provide programs to support the policies; the "Choose Your Life" Workplace Wellness Program, bringing nutrition education to workplaces; and "Simply Fresh" television broadcasts, which demonstrate produce-based healthy cooking.

HELP was originally established under the Monterey County Office of Economic Development and Monterey County Business Council's C2 Competitive Clusters Initiative. For more information, please contact Mike Pippi at (831) 372-3616 or visit www.helpunited.org.