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Lynchburg Community Market sees SNAP surge during pandemic

Lynchburg Community Market sees SNAP surge during pandemic

Only $5 for 5 months

The Lynchburg Community Market has seen about a 500% increase in SNAP card transactions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Darrius Slaughter, assistant market manager, said this surge has been beneficial to the market, farmers and customers who are more exposed to fresh fruits and vegetables.

“With the pandemic, a lot of families have received temporary SNAP cards and or benefits have been expanded,” he said. “This means more people have access to SNAP and they’re coming to use the market to spend that money. It’s been a significant influx, which makes us happy.”

SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, benefits were first offered at the market in 2013 in an effort to boost the availability of fresh food options for low-income families in and around downtown.

The program, which converts SNAP benefits — formerly known as food stamps — into tokens that can be used like cash to purchase fresh produce.

On a normal Saturday, Slaughter said the market would receive between $200 and $300 worth of SNAP tokens, but the last three Saturdays have brought in about $1,300 to $1,500 each.

Slaughter said food accessibility always has been something that has been important to the market since its located downtown, which has been determined as a food desert.

“The market is the main source for fresh food and this program puts money back in the pocket of farmers and puts fresh produce on the tables of the community,” Slaughter said.

The market has a dollar-for-dollar grant provided by Virginia Fresh Match which is available for SNAP users to purchase fresh food for their families.

Those with SNAP benefits can swipe for any dollar amount and get double back, Slaughter said.

“It helps farmers because it’s doubling the impact and customers are spending it on farmers’ produce, which helps them out especially during COVID. It’s doubling what farmers normally would get,” he said.

The Virginia Fresh Match network was launched to help farmers markets serve low-income shoppers. With funding from a federal Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant, the network helps Virginia farmers markets to provide incentive funds to shoppers using SNAP, said Sam Lev, region leader for Virginia Fresh Match.

At more than 80 farmers markets and independent grocery stores across the state, SNAP shoppers get an additional $1 for every $1 they spend, to buy even more fresh fruits and vegetables.

“The benefits of this program are many,” Lev said. “SNAP users can purchase even more fresh, healthy foods for their families. Local farms and food businesses find new customers and increase their sales. And across the commonwealth, hundreds of thousands more dollars are spent in the local economy.”

In 2019, SNAP families in the Blue Ridge region purchased more than $70,000 in products from farmers markets, made more affordable with Virginia Fresh Match incentives.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, food security has become even more of a problem throughout Virginia,” Lev said. “The adaptability and commitment of local farmers markets, especially those that offer Virginia Fresh Match incentives to [SNAP] families, will have a tremendous impact on the health and resilience of our community.”

Slaughter said the market has regular SNAP customers but the temporary card has brought in new people who have been exposed to the farmers for the first time.

Rachel Palma, co-owner of Restoration Acres, which sells pasture raised meats, said she has been selling at the market since 2014 but this year her SNAP sales have nearly doubled.

“We are thankful for the opportunity to provide nutrient-dense food to those in our community who need it now more than ever before. We are also thankful to see these funds going to small family farms like us who have a vested interest in the health and well-being of our communities,” she said.

Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

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