Mitch* is not embarrassed to feed his children.
So when his WIC food stamp benefits slow the checkout line at the supermarket, he ignores the dirty looks. He’d rather focus his energy on his daughter and twin sons.
Mitch works as a teacher, and his wife stays at home with the kids because day-care would cost more than her income would bring in. They registered for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, a federal food assistance program, four years ago after a pediatrician recommended applying. Not knowing they qualified, they were grateful for the extra help.
Families who qualify for WIC or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can use Columbia Farmers Market’s SNAP Matching programs. There are two programs available: the Access to Healthy Foods program and the Double Up Food Bucks program, says Corrina Smith, executive director of Columbia’s Farmers Market. These programs match up to $50, meaning an individual can receive up to $25 of federal food stamps and then receive an additional $25 from the county.
“There’s all kinds of amazing, healthy, delicious fresh products at the farmers market, and we want everybody to be able to access that food,” Smith says. “By offering this program, that’s one way we can help individuals and families that need to have that option.”
To register for the programs, one must meet various requirements, Smith says. The Access To Healthy Foods program is open to SNAP and WIC recipients who have families with children under age 19, who are elderly or who are disabled. The Double Up Food Bucks program is open to all SNAP recipients, but can only be used to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.
“We have to budget razor-thin in order to feed these guys, and so the awesome SNAP Matching and WIC programs allow us to have a healthier lifestyle,” Mitch says.
According to the Access To Healthy Foods website, 27 percent of Boone County households with children experience food uncertainty, which means they do not know where their next meal will come from.
These numbers are seen in yearly participation of the SNAP Matching program. In 2017, 984 people used a SNAP Matching program; this year, the program has already registered 121 individuals, and the summer is just getting started, Smith says.
Funding for the programs are run by Sustainable Farms and Communities, one of the organizations sponsoring Columbia’s urban agriculture park. While some money comes from personal donations, fundraising events and federal grants, most funding comes from the Boone County Children Services Fund, says Kenneth Peg, Chairman of the Board of Directors for SFC.
Prior to the Boone County Children Services Fund, the SNAP Matching programs struggled to raise the money necessary to help Columbia’s food insecure population.
“We’d gotten to the point where trying to raise the amount of money, let’s say it was $30,000, trying to raise that much money in the local community was really really difficult and the Boone County program came around at a time when it was really helpful,” Peg says.
There is more to the SNAP Matching programs than meets the eye. Smith appreciates how these programs aid food insecure households while also strengthening local businesses.
“We want everybody to be able to have access to this local, healthy fresh food, but then on the flip side, those funds are also going back to supporting our local farmers,” Smith said. “So it’s keeping the dollar local, which is good for everybody and the local economy.”
Some SNAP Matching employees, like Market Assistant Haley Gronniger, hope the program will continue to grow and provide more benefits. SNAP Matching users wish for the same thing.
“It’s really important that we partner alongside families that are struggling, and programs like these really help us do it,” Mitch says.
The SNAP Matching programs are available on all Columbia Farmers Market days at the Oasis booth, located at the center of the market. The market is held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 601 Business Loop 70 W but that location will change to 1769 West Ash St when the urban agriculture park opens. The market hopes the new location will open by the end of June.
*Editor's note: Vox has withheld Mitch's surname out of respect for the family's financial privacy.