The Shawnash Institute became involved with the Matching Value Coupon Program (MVCP) (This was previously known as the Double Value Coupon Program – DVCP) at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market in the summer of 2014. The idea of making fresh produce available to those with less access has been evolving at different places in our country for some time:
• Overview from National Public Radio
• Nationwide Pioneer – Wholesome Wave
• Illinois Pioneer – Experimental Station
Beginning in 2011, Chicago-based Experimental Station annually provided Oak Park’s Farmers’ Market with a small grant to encourage LINK card holders to purchase fresh produce. LINK is the State of Illinois program that was once called Food Stamps; benefits are accumulated on a debit account accessed through a LINK card. At the market LINK card purchases are matched up to $20 with coupons. The program was successful – so successful that the grant was exhausted every year well before the end of the market.
That’s when Shawnash board members Warren Bakker and John Owens got busy. Warren is a long-time member of the Farmer’s Market Commission and John was Assistant Farmers’ Market Manager in 2012 and 2013. They maintained that communities with as many resources and as much generosity as Oak Park and River Forrest would enthusiastically support the DVCP if congregations, businesses and individuals only understood this wonderful program was languishing in their midst.
When they reached out the community responded. And when it was determined a 501(c)3 was needed to manage the collected funds and award them to the Farmers’ Market (a fiscal agent), the Shawnash board of directors unanimously stepped forward into this new role. Incorporated in 2009 with a broad mandate to “strengthen the balance between earth and her people,” Shawnash had worked in sustainability education and food insecurity and was eager to embrace this new mission.
Because of Shawnash and the MVCP stakeholders, 2014 was the first year the Matching Value Coupons were available from the Market’s opening in mid-May until its close at the end of October. The program is entering the 2015 Farmers’ Market season with a small surplus and a lot of optimism about the future.
The graphs below show the robust growth of coupon distribution and redemption in 2014 when we kept the program funded all year compared to 2013 when funds were expended midway into the market season.
The improvements in MVCP participation was not solely the result of more funds being available. Shawnash representatives repeatedly made presentations on Saturday mornings at the Oak Park Food Pantry. In 2015 those presentations have resumed as well as new initiatives with Catholic Charities, PADS and Oak Park’s Infant Welfare Society.
Shawnash is gratified by the progress we made in 2014, but in terms of the problem of providing access to fresh produce for all, our success is meager. The best measure of participation is LINK card transactions – towards the end of the 2014 market, transactions exceeded 30. There are more than 5,000 LINK card holders living in close proximity to our market. Your generosity is key to making their lives healthier.