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SNAP recipients to save money on fruits, veggies

The program, called Rhody Food on the Move, will officially launch September 11, but it’s an expansion of a program that’s been in the works for several years.

A new initiative by the Rhode Island Public Health Institute aims to make it cheaper to buy fruits and vegetables for people who receive food stamp benefits.

The program, called Rhody Food on the Move, will officially launch September 11, but it's an expansion of a program that's been in the works for several years.

"Fruits and vegetables have been proven to help prevent obesity, to reduce the risk of cancer, and people just don't eat enough," Gemma Gorham said. "Nobody in the state eats enough."

Gorham came up with the idea of a mobile produce market in 2006, while working as a nutrition coordinator for an obesity prevention program at the health department.

The program surveyed participants to find out why people weren't eating more fruits and vegetables and found four common reasons.

"They cost too much, they didn't have time to shop, they didn't like the quality and, in low-income neighborhoods, they had no access," Gorham said.

The project brought markets to where people lived, starting with a community center in Central Falls and a worksite market at Hasbro Toys.

Data showed people and children ate more produce after utilizing mobile produce markets.

A couple of grants and pilot markets later, the Rhode Island Public Health Institute has received a grant of $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

About $65,000 of the grant will be used to double the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits, also known as food stamps.

"If you spend one dollar, your dollar will be worth two dollars at our market," said Amy Nunn, executive director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute.

The goal, she said, is to have the government help support healthy eating.

"Lower the price for people for whom fruits and vegetables might be out of reach, but also to really expand access and bring produce into places (such as) food deserts or food swamps where fast food is really popular," Nunn said.

There's also a local focus.

The extra or doubled money must be used on local produce if it's available.

Currently, there are about 20 markets statewide that are open to the public.

One of them is at a worksite at Westerly Hospital.

"It's a healthy opportunity to maximize your time," said Martha Slater, a nurse.

Slater and others came down on their breaks to buy produce at Westerly Hospital.

Slater said she has been coming to the market on Thursday mornings since it opened.

New markets will launch at places like the South County YMCA in September.

Other locations will be opened in Providence, Pawtucket, West Warwick, Woonsocket and other cities, including some at public housing and senior housing complexes.

"We all know it's expensive to go to the supermarket, whether you're buying organic vegetables or you're buying whatever's just in the supermarket," Diane Nahabedian of the YMCA Greater Providence said. "This makes buying wholesome, good food, locally grown food, accessible to absolutely everybody."

All the produce markets are open to everyone, not just people who receive SNAP benefits.

Barbara Doorley, a respiratory therapist at Westerly Hospital, helped work to bring the market to the hospital and said she appreciated the convenience.

"(For) people (who) here 12 hours a day, sometimes it's tough to get to the market and you leave empty," Doorley said. "It's nice to be able to grab fresh produce to come home to cook and have in the house. It's like, 'Oh Mom, you're working until 8,' then I come and (say), 'Yeah but look, I got a big bag.'"

Nunn noted that if people are interested in bringing mobile markets to their communities, information is available on RIPHI.org.

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