One after another, people of all ages approached a table Saturday morning at the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market hoping to maximize the amount of healthy food to buy there.
Shortly after 11 a.m. an elderly woman donning sunglasses approached the site, followed by a man in a red tank top. A moment later a middle-age woman in a wheelchair did so, and after her came a young mother with two children.
Those people and others were participating in the Market Match program designed to double their food purchasing power at the farmers market. The program calls for people who qualify for FoodShare, a supplemental nutrition assistance program, to receive assistance buying local, healthy food at the market.
From 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each Saturday, June through September, FoodShare participants can use their QUEST cards to purchase wooden tokens for $1 apiece and have that amount doubled, up to $10, meaning someone buying $10 of tokens would receive another $10 to go toward buying food.
The tokens don’t expire and can be used any day the downtown farmers market is open (Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays during the summer). Vendors receive the tokens as payment for goods and are reimbursed for them with cash.
Cody Harrison of Elk Mound said Market Match makes a big positive difference in her life and that of her three children.
“I am able to buy a lot more good, healthy food for myself and my kids because of (Market Match),” Harrison said, surrounded by tables of locally grown food sold by vendors. “Luckily, my kids really like vegetables, and we can get a lot of fresh ones here.”
Market Match is vital to herself and others, Harrison said, as the cost of food has risen in recent years. “Without this program we would not be able to afford this much healthy food,” she said.
Others making use of Market Match agreed. Eau Claire resident Josh Schoennick said he sometimes struggles to afford food and is grateful for the program.
“With this, I am eating more healthy food and not so much processed stuff,” he said.
Those stories are welcome news to Deidra Barrickman, Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market manager. She said many people benefit from the assistance they receive through Market Match.
Numbers support that notion. Last year the program provided more than $11,000 in match money to participants and more than $30,000 was spent overall. Some people buy through the program with credit or debit cards but don’t take the match, Barrickman said.
Since it began 2015, Market Match has served hundreds of people and given about $25,500 in matching funds. Program participants comprise a wide range of ages and situations, she said.
“This program means a lot to so many people,” Barrickman said, noting she has noticed many senior citizens who are struggling financially.
To serve more people, Market Match operators will begin selling tokens at the Wednesday farmers markets, she said.
Jamf, Group Health Cooperative and United Healthcare pay for matching dollars. Other program assistance is provided by the city of Eau Claire, the Eau Claire County UW-Extension Office, the county Department of Human Services, county 4-H families and Joining Our Neighbors Advancing Hope (JONAH).
“This program is a group effort,” Barrickman said.
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