Double Up Food Bucks, a partnership between North Texas Healthy Communities and Blue Zones Project Fort Worth, allows low-income families to essentially buy one item of produce and get one free. The program, designed to address increased food insecurity, especially in parts of Fort Worth that are food deserts, now allows shoppers eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to double their savings on fresh produce at two sites: the Cowtown Farmers Market and Elrod’s Cost Plus Supermarket.

The Double Up Food Bucks program started at the Cowtown Farmers Market in May 2020. As of August, about $4,000 in Food Bucks were redeemed by more than 60 SNAP users, according to Matt Dufrene, vice president of Blue Zones Project Fort Worth/North Texas Healthy Communities.

“Blue Zones Project worked with Cowtown Farmers Market to accept federal SNAP benefits so that more people could enjoy locally grown produce at the market,” he wrote in an email.

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The Double Up program matches SNAP spending throughout 2020 at the Farmers Market. It’s a win for both the consumers and the local growers. Consumers are able to buy local produce, and the sellers who accept SNAP reimbursement are paid instantly with a swipe of the Lone Star Benefits Card, which works just like your debit card except purchases are restricted to eligible items only.

The expansion in October of the Double Up program to Elrod’s Cost Plus Supermarket on Fort Worth’s North Side increases access for low-income families at a time when the availability of fresh produce wanes.

“Elrod’s is a family-owned business that saw this need and is partnering with us to improve the health of this community and make a difference in the lives of its customers,” Dufrene said.

Studies have shown that fruits and vegetables provide nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E, which may boost immune function. As we roll into flu season, and continue to contend with COVID-19, the availability of produce becomes more critical.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in those who are struggling to put food on the table, much less being able to afford healthy options like fresh fruits and vegetables,” Dufrene said.

Another access challenge is that SNAP participants’ ability to buy fresh fruits and veggies may be limited because of the part of town they live in. The partnership with Elrod’s and parent company G.E. Foodland aligns beautifully with the Double Up program’s mission. The locally owned grocer has a history of supporting charities like local food banks, food pantries, and the global food charity Extreme Response, which help food-insecure people get by.

“The most significant part of this partnership is that these Elrod’s Cost Plus Supermarket and Foodland Market stores are located in areas that Blue Zones Project has targeted as struggling with food insecurity,” Dufrene said. “By making healthy choices more affordable, we hope to have a positive impact on the well-being of these communities.”

Additionally, the Foodland Market on Ayers Avenue is scheduled to offer Double Up Food Bucks later this year. The Foodland Market in Forest Hill is expected to offer the program in early 2021.

SNAP is a USDA-funded, state-administered program that uses household income and other criteria to determine program eligibility. The state of Texas requires some heavy vetting of income, along with a frequent re-application and determination process. In general, a household of four with a gross monthly income up to about $2,800 may qualify. Households with disabled or elderly people will also likely qualify.

According to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities’ 2019 data, in Texas, 79% of SNAP recipients are families that include one or more children. Almost 54% of those families are working families –– they’re just not making enough to pay for both rent and food. And 42% of our state’s SNAP recipients live below the poverty line. One in nine Texans depends on the SNAP program for food assistance.

For the Double Up program, SNAP participants can swipe their Lone Star Cards to pay half price for SNAP-eligible fresh produce for up to $20 in purchases per customer, per day. Blue Zones Fort Worth is under the umbrella of North Texas Healthy Communities, the nonprofit outreach arm of Texas Health Resources that facilitates community well-being improvement initiatives. Funding for the program will be sustained through 2021. Dufrene said the long-term success of this and other initiatives aimed at addressing food insecurity “will rely on finding community partnerships and funding and engaging companies like G.E. Foodland that are committed to serving the community.”