STLFPC Member Spotlight on Bonnie Harper from OneSTL and Double Up Food Bucks
What part of the food system do you work on?
My work focuses primarily on food access for low-income families, with a focus on healthy food.
Could you tell us more about the Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) program and role you play?
DUFB is a grant-funded program from the USDA. It is a nation-wide program, but in Missouri it is run through Double Up Heartland, which is a partnership of Missouri and Kansas. It is funded through a match provided by local funders in MO and KS to the USDA grant, and in total we have about $6 million to implement the program for 3 years in grocery stores and farmers’ markets. It is a dollar for dollar match for locally produced fruits and vegetables for people who receive SNAP (previously known as food stamps) benefits. If someone is on SNAP and they go to a Missouri Schnucks store or a participating farmer’s market, for every dollar they spend on locally grown produce they get a dollar to go toward a purchase of other produce. The idea is to incentivize healthy food eating for locally produced produce, which provides vibrant local economies for farmers as well. It is providing a win-win solution for local farmers as well as incentivizing healthy food for those using SNAP.
I am in charge of coordinating outreach for the program. SNAP users are alerted to the program by the Department of Social Services through a letter that goes out once a year. However, because the people on SNAP change quite frequently, some people might not know about the program if they join after the letter has gone out. So, it is my job to spread the word about the program and let users know they can go to Schnucks and farmers’ markets to partake in the program. I do that through community-partner organizations working on food access issues or those who work with SNAP populations.
What is OneSTL?
OneSTL is a regional plan for sustainability that was finalized in 2013 through a Housing and Urban Development grant. It includes goals on a wide-range of topics such as water quality, biodiversity, air quality, transportation, housing and urban development, food access and more. We have goals to increase food access in our region for populations that live in a food desert or people who don’t have easy access to healthy food outlets. In pursuit of achieving this goal, we think Double Up Food Bucks is one kind of strategy to get at food access issues in our region. We are excited that this is available in our area because it isn’t available in all states. There is another program in Illinois called LinkUp that is basically the same program but only usable through farmers’ markets.
Any projects in the works?
We are trying to look for key partners that can help us push the DUFB messaging out, and obviously Schnucks is a key player. They have been on board since the beginning and they put a lot of effort to get it in their stores, despite all the technology difficulties they’ve had to face (PLU codes, EBT benefits card, etc.). We’ve been working with them to make sure people know about the program and how to use it in the store. Before SNAP users even get to the store, they have to know they can go to Schnucks to use it and that is where our community partners come in. We’ve been working with Operation Food Search quite a bit over the summer with their summer hunger program. Children that receive free lunches at school don’t have access over the summer so Operation Food Search set up a program with the school districts to have places set up for kids to receive free meals in the summer. In their promotion of that program, they also helped promote DUFB. Partnering with them over the summer was great because summer is the peak season for local food and therefore also the DUFB program because the most produce is available for the incentive program.
Other partners like MU Extension do cooking and nutrition education for those on SNAP and they are promoting the program as well. Of course, the STLFPC because they have quite an extensive membership of all people working on local food access issues. They’ve been very interested and active in promoting the program by handing out flyers at their community events. People on SNAP are in all corners of our region and it’s hard to get to all of them! That is why it is really important to use our connections to reach everyone in the community.
Where do you see the future of STL’s food system?
I am pretty excited about it. I see more and more connections between people working in the food system to try and be more impactful. I see a lot more collaboration happening for grant opportunities for different programs and projects. It is good to see people working together. I think we have a long way to go and there are a lot of issues that don’t necessarily have to do with food that we need to make sure we are addressing at the same time. People are starting to think about these things a lot more and how they impact each other. One goal of OneSTL is to try and highlight things that may not seem directly connected but in reality they are.