This year’s harvest of fresh, local fruit and vegetables just grew more plentiful for residents of Buffalo’s East Side food desert who qualify for SNAP purchases.
Thanks in part to new state funding from Gov. Kathy Hochul, the Double Up Food Bucks NY program removed the $20 per day cap on its dollar-for-dollar match of SNAP-purchased produce at five East Side vendors through the end of the year.
The unlimited match aims to increase affordable access to fresh, healthy food in the area targeted by the white supremacist mass shooter who killed 10 Black neighbors and wounded three other people May 14 at the Jefferson Avenue Tops market, which serves a predominantly Black neighborhood.
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The mass shooting closed the store for two months and put a national spotlight on the concentration of poverty and the lack of fresh, healthy food options on Buffalo’s East Side.
The Tops store reopened July 15 following a complete renovation that includes memorials to the victims, but “We know there are some in the community that are not ready or don’t want to return to the Tops on Jefferson,” said Lisa French, executive director of the Field & Fork Network, which administers the Double Up Food Bucks NY program.
“With shopping options being extremely limited, we hope this move will give residents greater freedom to shop at alternative locations,” French said. “We want to be part of the solution by making it easier for people to access fresh local food and invest in our partners who are working overtime on the East Side.”
Participating partners offering unlimited matching funds in the Double Up Food Bucks program are:
• Clinton Bailey Farmers Market, 1443-1517 Clinton St. Sign up for Double Up cards on full market days, Saturdays through November.
• Urban Fruits & Veggies mobile markets – see the list at buffalogogreen.org/events.
• Buffalo’s Golden Corner, 1715 Jefferson Ave.
• Feedmore WNY Fresh Markets, multiple stops; see feedmorewny.org/programs-services/farm-market.
• African Heritage Food Co-op, 999 Broadway (inside the Broadway Market).
Anyone with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits can participate in the Double Up program. Unlimited match is only offered at the East Side partner locations; all other locations still have the $20 daily cap, said Field & Fork Communications and Partnerships Manager Nichole Borchard. Double Up matching funds do not expire and can be banked for future purchases at the same location where they were earned, she said.
Double Up is a federal, state and privately funded nutrition incentive program for anyone with SNAP/EBT and P-EBT (pandemic assistance that continues through the summer for children/families who qualify for free school lunches).
Field & Fork Network launched the program in New York in 2014, and Buffalo’s East Side was the first community to embrace it, Borchard said. One of the first locations was the Clinton Bailey Farmers Market, a site that continues to see increasing participation from families seeking healthy food options.
In the two weeks since Field & Fork removed the cap for the East Side partners, the Clinton Bailey market has matched $18,000 in Double Up Food Bucks, Borchard said. Last Saturday, “more than 100 people lined up by 8 a.m.” to enroll in the Double Up program there, she said.
Fran Desiderio of Desi’s Produce, which sells a wide variety of fruits and vegetables at Clinton Bailey, said she has been spreading the word about the Double Up cap being lifted there.
“People are very, very appreciative of this,” she said. “On Saturdays when the all the stands are full, we see people from all nationalities and cultures, and we are trying to cater to them by offering things like really hot peppers.”
Besides helping low-income families put more fresh, healthy food on their tables, Double Up also helps local farmers sell more produce and gets more food dollars circulating in the local economy, Borchard said.
The program operates at more than 180 sites across New York including farmers markets, corner stores, mobile markets, farm stands and some grocery stores. On Buffalo’s East Side, the unlimited match will assist food providers who stepped up to offer free meals in the wake of the May 14 hate crime.
"We feel it’s not realistic to ask people to go shopping every day to receive the maximum benefit under the $20 cap," Borchard said. "Now if they go and spend $200 in one day, they will have earned another $200 on their Double Up card to use at that location.”
Borchard said Field & Fork is also working with Tops to implement the program at the Jefferson Avenue store “in a way that’s not cumbersome for the store and our reporting system.” Rather than offer Double Up cards, the grocery store will be able to print coupons for SNAP purchasers to use the program, she said.
See SNAP income guidelines at otda.ny.gov/programs/snap/.
The Double Up program received its first state funding this year, as a $2 million line item in Gov. Hochul’s 2022 budget . Borchard said Field & Fork expects the U.S. Department of Agriculture will match that to provide $4 million for the program next year.
Two other providers recently announced new initiatives for food assistance:
No Kid Hungry will help families connect with the closest USDA-funded free summer lunch programs for children via text or three-digit call. Parents and caregivers across the state can text “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 304-304 or call 311 for the most up-to-date hours and locations of nearby meal sites. No registration or documentation is required to receive a free meal.
The Community Action Organization opens a new food pantry at the Resource Council of WNY at 347 E. Ferry St. on Tuesday. In addition to food stocked by FeedMore WNY, the pantry also will provide fresh produce, meat, water and dairy items sourced through local partners including Providence Farms Collective and Fresh Fix, with state Community Services Block Grant funding. The CAO will celebrate the grand opening from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday with free hotdogs and other giveaways.
The pantry will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays. Call 716-881-5150 to register or check on eligibility.
The new pantry is the 10th serving the Jefferson Avenue community. See a list of local food resources at feedmorewny.org/programs-services/find-food/.