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FRANKLIN - Franklin's new year's resolution is already off to a great start.

Every year, city employees collect food to donate to Feeding Franklin, a collection of food pantries in the city. However, this year the Franklin Health Department, working with dietitians at Mount Mary University, made an effort to make sure the food did more than just stock the shelves, but provided good nutrition, as well.

The response was overwhelmingly positive, with more than 1,000 pounds of food donated, much of it coming from the Healthy Shelves shopping list, according the public health nurse Lori Czajkowski.

The local fire department also donated $200, which will be split between pantries that are a part of Feeding Franklin: St. Martin of Tours, Faith Presbyterian Church, St. James Catholic Church, The Salvation Army and St. Stephen's Family Life center.

With 6 percent of Franklin residents falling below the federal poverty limit, and an additional 24 percent struggling to make ends meet, according to the United Way, the donations will go to Franklin families who need it.

Stocking healthy shelves 

Though food donations can be a blessing to those in a situation where they need assistance from a food pantry, the Healthy Shelves shopping list tries to take into account specific nutritional needs and promote overall healthful eating. The list also takes into consideration how easy certain foods are to prepare.

The list is filled with things such as dried beans; canned fruit in juice; whole grains, such as brown rice; pasta sauce and spices, which can be expensive, but are essential to creating a tasty meal.

"We certainly recognize that not every single food on a pantry shelf has to be healthy, but what we are saying is if people can have a bigger selection of healthful foods instead of foods that don't contribute to good health, that will benefit their health overall," said Mount Mary dietitian Lisa Stark.

Specific help for a specific need 

For the most part, food at pantries fulfill most nutrient needs, according to Stark. However, many canned vegetables tend to be high in sodium, and canned fruits can carry a high sugar content. These kinds of foods can be especially problematic for people with chronic diseases wuch as diabetes or kidney disease, conditions for which sugar or sodium intake should be low.

According to a national report compiled in 2014 for the nonprofit Feeding America, 33 percent of households that use food pantries have a family member diagnosed with diabetes, and 58 percent of households had a family member with high blood pressure.

Foods that meet these specific dietary needs can be hard to find in food pantries, so many people end up eating foods that could have a negative effect on their health condition.

Other common donation items, such as boxed macaroni and cheese and instant Ramen, are hardly helpful nutritionally for a healthy person, much less someone struggling with a disease.

"I always hate to pick on specific foods, and I know that a lot of people like Ramen noodles, but it's very high in salt, it's very high in saturated fat, and it tends to be very low in vitamins and minerals," Stark said.

Toward a healthier 2017 

With about 850 pounds of food donated in the 2016 food drive, this year's drive contributed not only more healthy food, but more food overall, and hopes are high that the momentum will continue throughout the year.

"(This shows) there are really great people who work for the city of Franklin, and they really do care about the people in their community," said Czajkowski.

Outside city hall, the health department is also hoping to push healthy donations at other food drives, like ones at the elementary schools, which take turns hosting drives throughout the year.

The hope is that this is just the first step to making Franklin more healthy and less hungry in 2017.

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