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Food pantries encourage healthier donations

Ontario County Department of Public Health
Ontario County is piloting a nutrition program aimed at getting healthier donations to local food pantries.

It’s like “delivering nutrition through the back door,” Maggie McHugh said.

McHugh is the senior nutritionist for Eat Smart New York’s Finger Lakes region. Her organization is partnering with Ontario County to encourage food bank donors to make healthier contributions.

“We provide resources and tools for community members to learn more what healthy food items that they can donate to their local food pantries are,” said McHugh.

Low-sodium canned vegetables or canned fruit packed in water instead of heavy syrup are examples of easy healthy donations, McHugh said.

The program, called Nourish Your Neighbor, is the first of its kind in the Finger Lakes, though the initial campaign got started in Albany. “We were, like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is fantastic; we’re going to bring it here,’ McHugh said, “And that’s where we shared it with Ontario County Public health, and they just loved it.”

The program has already increased access to healthy food options in Central New York, the Ontario County public health department said in a press release.

Those health benefits extend beyond just the people getting their food from food pantries, McHugh said. It also helps point out more nutritious options to the people donating food, so that they can have a healthier diet themselves.

Ontario County public health director Mary Beer said she wants the program to emphasize the importance of food pantries in the community, as well as solicit healthier donations. "The need for food pantries is continuing to grow," Beer said. "We just want to remind people: As you donate, think about what could be a good, healthy option."

Nourish Your Neighbor remains a pilot program in the Finger Lakes. McHugh says that’s so sponsors can evaluate it, measure its effects, and make changes before expanding it any further.

“When there’s a pilot, you collect data,” McHugh said, “and the program stays flexible.”

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