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How One Farmers Market Gave $12,200 In Free Food To Those Who Need It Most

By Linze Rice | November 18, 2015 5:42am
 Tokens used by both regular and Link shoppers at the Glenwood Sunday Market are specially designed as to not draw attention between the two groups.
Tokens used by both regular and Link shoppers at the Glenwood Sunday Market are specially designed as to not draw attention between the two groups.
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DNAinfo/Linze Rice

ROGERS PARK — This year Rogers Park residents using state aid to buy fresh food at the Glenwood Sunday Market got an extra $12,200 in free goods from the market itself.

The market matches up to $25 spent per Link user, who is able to access the fresh produce and more with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits.

"And we're not even scratching the surface of people we could be reaching," said Sheree Moratto, director of the market and sustainability director at the Rogers Park Business Alliance.

On Dec. 1, known as "Giving Tuesday," a fundraiser will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at R Public House, 1508 W. Jarvis Ave., to benefit the market.

Moratto said the goal of the market is to make healthy foods available to anyone, and the perception of farmers markets can leave some feeling shameful or intimidated on top of being unable to expense the cost of the food.

A 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by a number of Far North Side groups like St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin's office, ACCESS Community Health Network and more found that 1 in 5 Rogers Park residents did not know where they'd get their next meal.

The study found the neighborhood suffered from a 20 percent food insecurity rate, higher than the national average.

Moratto said the dollar-matching policy has helped residents budget for how they'd like to spend the money at the market.

When Link users go to the market, they, like debit or credit users, must swipe their card first in exchange for tokens, which they can exchange for goods at the market. The tokens never expire, and residents can "stockpile" and use them as needed.

"I've had people tell me, 'If you didn't do this I'd just be eating Kraft [macaroni] and cheese because that's all I can afford this week," Moratto said.

The only difference between Link tokens and non-Link tokens are the color, a strategic decision made to lessen the stigma of using the benefits, Moratto said.

She said each year she'd like to double the amount the organization is able to match in state benefits, hopefully at least $25,000 in 2016. In 2014, the group doled out $5,500 in tokens to the market among Link users.

The need is there, she said.

"I know people out there who want and need food, I mean people have been lined up around the block," Moratto said.

The market saw a huge turnout earlier this year when organizers got an unexpected call they'd received a $2,500 grant they would need to use in 30 days.

They decided that for every $1 Link users spent during one specific market, the market would give them $5. Once the outdoor market opened its doors that day, it took only 30 minutes to give the money out to 104 residents using their Link cards.

That short 5-to-1 bonus meant the local farmers market organization made $12,200 in matching contributions to the $10,500 spent by Link users over the course of this year.

She said the organization's biggest challenge has been spreading the word that goods at the market are available to anyone, including people using SNAP benefits from out of state.

Moratto hopes to continue reaching people in the neighborhood who are hungry to not only connect them to healthy food sources but also to grow the market as a community hub.

"We're here to make this a representation of our whole community," she said.

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