Double Value Coupon Program

Beginning in 2014 Shawnash fundraising and outreach to LINK cardholders was responsible for better nutrition for economically stressed community members and more income for growers. The DVCP allows LINK cardholders to double the value of their purchase up to $20. The promotion of the program and the extra buying power, in many cases, has been the decisive factor in LINK cardholders becoming regular customers of farmers’ markets and, more important, giving them the benefit of regular access to healthy food.

On March 29, 2014, representatives from six Oak Park-River Forest congregations (Ascension, St. Giles, St. Luke, St. Edmund, Euclid Avenue United Methodist and Fair Oaks Presbyterian) gathered in the Pine Room of Oak Park’s Ascension School to learn how the Illinois Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP) helps LINK cardholders gain more access to healthy produce and other foods bought at farmers’ markets throughout the area. LINK is the Illinois program that manages federal SNAP (food stamp) benefits. Corey Chatman, DVCP manager at Experimental Station, discussed the program’s goals and methods. Experimental Station, a Hyde Park nonprofit, helps manage the DVCP in Illinois.

Corey Chapman
Corey Chapman

At Farmers’ Markets that have wireless credit / debit card capabilities, like Oak Park, LINK recipients can use their state-issued debit card to buy healthy fruits and vegetables. Then, Experimental Station’s DVCP matching funds  provide LINK cardholders up to $20 more a visit to buy additional produce. The funds are issued as coupons that can only be redeemed at the Farmers’ Market.

Through cardholder feedback and surveys at Experimental Station’s 61st Street Farmers’ Market, much has been learned about the impact of the program. In addition to building buying power for LINK Card recipients and customers for the local growers at farmers’ markets, important shifts in attitude and perception flow from the program. Farmers’ markets are seen as expensive and elitist – a place where LINK cardholders feel they don’t really belong. The promotion of the program and the extra buying power, in many cases, has been the decisive factor in LINK cardholders becoming regular customers of farmers’ markets and, more important, giving them the benefit of regular access to healthy food. The Experimental Station website cites additional endorsements from market managers at: http://www.experimentalstation.org/link-up-illinois/impacts.

At the Oak Park Farmers’ Market, DVCP has been so successful during the last two years that all the grant funds have been expended before the end of August. When the funds run out, coupons are no longer issued and LINK recipients are turned away disappointed. Last year two congregations (Ascension and St. Edmund) made contributions to extend the season a little longer and they are determined that, with a little more organization, other local congregations and individuals will be able to generate sufficient donations to make sure the Double Coupon program lasts the whole season in Oak Park.

At the March 29th meeting, participants focused on a goal of raising $7,000 to support the program at the 2014 Farmers’ Market. Fr. Larry McNally of Ascension began the 2014 effort with a check for $100. A few weeks later, St. Giles contributed $770, the proceeds from one of its Lenten Soup Suppers. At St. Edmund, A Place at the Table, a documentary about hunger in America, was shown and discussed; donations for the Double Value Coupon Program totaled $150.

Leaders are currently reaching out to Oak Park congregations to collaborate on this important effort to fight hunger locally and statewide. If your congregation wishes to find out more, please contact John Owens at owens708@comcast.net or call John at 708 846-1827.