It’s no secret how much easier and cheaper it usually is to get junk food than it is to get healthy and delicious fresh fruits and vegetables. That is often especially true for electronic benefit transfer (EBT) customers.
According to Donna Martin, Mid America Regional Council (MARC) program manager and project director for the Double Up Heartland initiative, that’s why Heartland Foods started the pilot program for Double Up Food Bucks in 2015 at five of their Kansas City-area grocery stores.
EBT customers at Town and Country Supermarket at Cabool and Licking will now receive double the value for fresh produce at up to $25 of the incentive applied. Essentially, EBT customers will be able to get up to $50 worth of fresh produce per day for $25.
Martin explained the background of the program during a promotional event May 18 at Country Mart in Salem.
In 2016, Mid American Regional Council (MARC) submitted a proposal to the USDA NIFA for a Double Up Food Bucks project including grocery stores and farmers market in Missouri and Kansas. MARC was subsequently awarded $5.8 million at that time, half of which came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the other half came from local and regional funding sources.
During that time 183 locations offered the Double Up Food Bucks program. About 80 percent of the locations were in Missouri. The project area went as far west as Salina, Kan., and as far east as St. Louis and stretched down to the southeastern part of Kansas and the southwestern part of Missouri.
According to Martin, nearly $2.5 million of incentives were redeemed during the grant period.
After the USDA grant funding ended in 2019, the program shrunk back down, but local funders in the Kansas City area and in Kansas kept the program alive at 62 locations and nearly $360,000 worth of incentives were redeemed.
MARC received two more grants in 2020 and 2021; the program expanded and another million dollars of incentives were received.
The USDA extended an invitation in spring 2021 to all existing Nutrition Incentive Program grantees to submit applications for funding which had been allocated to the USDA from COVID response and relief funds. The applications were to build on the foundations already in place due to existing work. Matching funds were not required so these funds could be used to expand the program back to the rest of Missouri. The Double Up Heartland Collaborative (including MARC, Cultivate KC, Kansas City University Research & Extension, West Central Missouri Community Action Agency and the University of Kansas Medical Center) submitted a $4.6 million grant.
With the 2020 and 2021 grants, the Double Up Food Bucks will be able to expand to include more than 150 locations (86 grocery stores and 65 farmers markets —81 of those locations are in Missouri — 29 of the grocery stores are Town & Country Supermarkets).
Joe Polizzi, president and CEO of Town and Country Supermarkets, also spoke at the Salem event about how valuable he thinks the program can be for the community.
“I think it supports our mission. We’ve been in business for over 60 years and our mission has always been to provide affordable products and to remain an integral part of the community,” Polizzi said about Town and Country’s participation.