BEDFORD — A local grocery store has partnered with a statewide nutrition incentive program and now is offering a 50% discount on fresh produce to customers receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — formerly known as food stamps.
In October, Vista Foods, 212 E. Washington St., joined Virginia Fresh Match — a network of farmers markets and food stores across Virginia — to double the value of SNAP benefits for fresh produce purchased at the store. SNAP customers now can purchase $20 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables and pay only $10.
“That’s only a $10 cap per transaction,” said Sam Hedges, program grant director for Virginia Fresh Match. “There is no limit to how many transactions they can make in a day.”
According to information on the United States Department of Agriculture’s website, more than 2,600 underserved households in Bedford County are receiving SNAP benefits.
Hedges said in August 2018, Roanoke-based Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP) received, on behalf of the Virginia Fresh Match network, a $1.8 million Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant from the USDA to support SNAP incentives in Virginia.
Hedges said the three-year grant will support the expansion of the Virginia Fresh Match network — which brings together farmers markets, local food nonprofits and retail food stores to address food insecurity, farmer viability and affordable access to fresh produce.
The grant money currently is being used to match SNAP purchases at more than 70 farmers markets and grocery stores in Virginia, Hedges said.
“Vista Foods is only the fourth grocery store we have partnered with,” Hedges said. “However, we will be looking to add more stores to our network as we move forward.”
Amit Patel, the owner of Vista Foods, said he contacted Hedges about partnering with Virginia Fresh Match after seeing how SNAP recipients were benefiting from the program during a visit to a local farmers market.
“It really helps people who can’t always get healthy food for themselves and their families,” Patel said. “I asked if I could team up with them.”
Patel said many farmers markets are closing for the holidays, which could prevent SNAP recipients from taking advantage of the incentive program.
“Many farmers markets will not open again until the spring,” Patel said. “And they are only open a couple of days a week in the warmer months. We can continue providing these benefits year round.”
Hedges agreed the program is working well in the Virginia Fresh Match network ‘s four stores in Roanoke, Richmond, Harrisonburg and Bedford.
“That model is working well so far,” Hedges said. “We were really fortunate to hook up with a store like Vista Foods. It’s such an unique store and has served the people in Bedford for many years.”
Hedges said the program had a “soft opening” in October but now wants to get the word out to SNAP recipients so they can benefit from the program.
“We wanted to get things into place last month and see how they went,” Hedges said. “Now that things are up and running we want to reach out to more stores like Vista Foods and bring them into the network.”
Patel said even without advertising the program in October, more SNAP recipients in Bedford are learning about the Virginia Fresh Match grant.
“At first they didn’t know about it until they got to the register,” Patel said. “However, they were really pleased when they found out about it. People like it and they really appreciate that they are getting a helping hand.”