The Waco Downtown Farmers Market is offering low-income families the chance to double their spending power on healthy food available at the market.

The market has announced it will participate in the Double Up Food Bucks program, which matches purchases of up to $20 per day made using benefits cards for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

“We’re excited to be part of a program that helps low-income families stretch their food dollars,” market manager Bethel Erickson-Bruce wrote in a press release.

The market will distribute flyers announcing the program at Caritas locations, including 300 S. 15th St., 2016 Bellmead Drive and 3118 Franklin Ave., as well as through the Produce Prescription Program coordinated by World Hunger Relief Inc. and the 16 area locations of the Family Health Center, according to the press release.

The program kicks off April 28 at the farmers market, which operates from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at 500 Washington Ave., across from the McLennan County Courthouse.

“About 60 percent of what our vendors offer is eligible for purchase under the SNAP program, including milk, cheese, meat, eggs, bread, olive oil and herbs,” Erickson-Bruce said in an interview. “Participants can buy those items with their cards, then basically get fresh fruits and vegetables at no charge.”

Erickson-Bruce said she expects a good turnout on opening day. She said the market already attracts “hard-core” SNAP recipients intent on stretching their food dollars as far as possible.

Seed money for the program, an estimated $25,000, is being provided by the Waco-McLennan County Health District as part of the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge. The market is pursuing other source of money to expand the program beyond July. Erickson-Bruce said the public may donate to the program, and she would welcome corporate sponsors.

Pilot partners for Double Up Food Bucks in Waco, besides the market and health district, include the Fair Food Network based in Michigan. More information is available online at www.doubleuptexas.org and www.wacodowntownfarmersmarket.org.

The Double Up program, launched at five farmers markets in Detroit in 2009 and has grown to more than 150 sites in Michigan and become a model replicated nationwide, according to the Double Up website. Double Up also expanded to some grocery stores in 2013, according to the website.

Caritas SNAP outreach director Esther Morales said she applauds the goal of Double Up but questions its impact on her clients.

“The people I help apply for SNAP benefits do not normally go to the downtown farmers market,” Morales said. “I’m talking about large families who are more likely to do their shopping at grocery stores. They may face language or transportation barriers,. They spend where they have a larger selection and can find smart ways to stretch their SNAP dollars.”

For example Mission Waco’s 18-month-old Jubilee Food Market at 15th Street and Colcord Avenue has become popular with SNAP recipients, she said.

Mission Waco’s Urban Renewable Energy and Agriculture Project that operates an aquaponics greenhouse next door to Jubilee is also pursuing SNAP certification, director Katie Schaeffer said. REAP will start offering produce at the farmer’s market Saturday, and she hopes to learn more about the Double Up Food Bucks program and potentially participate, Schaeffer said.

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