The Shawnash Institute became involved with the Matching Value Coupon Program (MVCP) (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 (aka SNAP) 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 $25 in 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 was 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 MVCP if congregations, businesses and individuals only understood this wonderful program was languishing in their midst.
When John and Warren 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 and the program has been fully funded ever since.
Providing program funding is only part of the answer. Shawnash representatives repeatedly made presentations on Saturday mornings at the Oak Park Food Pantry. Since 2015 those presentations have been expanded to partnering organizations including Catholic Charities, PADS, PCC Wellness and Oak Park’s Infant Welfare Society with new partners being added throughout the season.
Shawnash is gratified by the progress we made through 2018, 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 2018 market, transactions exceeded 40 at weekly markets. 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.