Building a Healthier Community

Healthy Franklin County connects residents with health and human services, as well as education and quality nutrition.  With access to healthy food and information, Franklin County residents are able to make the best possible decisions for themselves and their loved ones.

Health is much more than a visit to the doctor’s office; health begins where we live, learn, work, and play. Carilion’s most recent Franklin County Health Assessment (CHNA) identifies opportunities to create healthier environments to empower all members of our community to achieve optimal health.  For example:

  • 36% of  Franklin County residents live below the 200% federal poverty level.
  • About 9500 Franklin County residents live in census-identified “food deserts” and lack access to nutritious foods.  
  • 1 in 3 elementary school students are struggling to read at grade level.
  • More than 1,400 Franklin County families are without banking accounts, making them especially vulnerable during times of crisis. 

The United Way is committed to supporting the underserved and fostering a culture of health, which is why our person-centered investment focus begins with our very youngest Franklin County residents. Partnering with 19 childcare and preschool programs in Franklin County, Smart Beginnings is helping about 400 young children  start kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed in school… and in life!

The 2016 Franklin County Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) also identified four census tracts in Franklin County as ‘food deserts,’ leading to limited access to nutritious food.  Unsure of where their next meals will come from, individuals who are food insecure are more likely to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

With its inception, Healthy Franklin County (HFC), an initiative of United Way of Roanoke Valley, became an integral part of the solution, addressing crucial needs by working alongside Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital and local community partners.

Informed by these findings, Healthy Franklin County provides immediate,  responsive solutions to reduce the factors that lead to chronic diseases in the community.

Community Giving Garden

The Community Giving Garden project was specifically designed to increase access to food for residents of those identified Franklin County food deserts, while also providing education about gardening and cooking with fresh produce. This unique, grassroots-driven project, operating in 21 Franklin County locations, provides the foundation for improving the health habits and well-being of the entire community.

The Garden has mobilized area gardeners to share their excess produce, which is then distributed to community centers, food banks, soup kitchens, and directly to target populations. Residents of all ages are embracing and sharing this information about healthy eating and lifestyle choices, and taking advantage of assistance and resources for establishing raised fruit and vegetable beds and community gardens in their neighborhoods.


Mrs. Treadway’s class and their Healthy Franklin County worm farm. Students feed scraps of food weekly to 36 Red Crawlers, who will take the food and turn it into soil. Students will use the soil to start seeds that will be planted in Sontag Elementary’s 1st Grade Garden!

Several days a week, volunteers work together in these organic gardens to keep crops healthy and harvest produce ripe for the picking. With HFC support in coordinating work and distribution systems, the giving gardens are collectively keeping food banks and soup kitchens supplied with fresh produce each week. One growing season can harvest more than 13,000 pounds of food to provide to food banks and soup kitchens in Franklin County and neighboring food desert regions.

  • New first graders This years first graders checking up on what last year’s first graders planted in the Giving Gardens. They'll start planting themselves very soon for a fall harvest.

Complementing food distribution, HFC also educates children ages 2-7 at Head Start and Franklin County Public School classrooms about the healthy food habits that can lead to lifelong wellness. Children are given the opportunity to smell, touch and taste different foods as they move through the rainbow, learning that nourishment comes in many different colorful varieties.

In a truly collaborative effort,  Ferrum College students recently harvested six varieties of hydroponic greenhouse lettuce for the season. More than 200 pounds of the produce went to local food banks through the giving gardens and were distributed with food boxes to more than 200 households. “The partnership with the United Way is an instinctive match. We’re thrilled to leverage our technical know-how in agriculture with UW’s network of food bank partners to grow vibrant communities in our own backyard,” said Dr. Tim Durham, Assistant Professor of Agronomy at Ferrum College.

Students Sean Tollinger and Jody Jeff work working at the Ferrum College hydroponic greenhouse. Photos by Dr. Bob Pohland/Ferrum College.


To meet essential needs in Franklin County, United Way donations also help fund programs that improve healthcare for vulnerable populations. High-quality, efficient and comprehensive health care for low-income and uninsured adults is available, including low-cost prescriptions, lab testing, counseling, referrals and specialty care for diabetics.

Through the Miles 2 Independence program,older adults in Franklin County without access to transportation can receive assistance with non-emergency medical transportation.  This helps address access to primary and dental care, mental health counseling, substance abuse services, preventative care and chronic disease management.

Low-income individuals and families experiencing unemployment, illness, family disruptions, or other unexpected occurrences often need a safety net during times of crisis. The Food Assistance Program provides a once-a-month benefit to clients, with enough food for two nutritious meals daily for five days, for each household member.

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