Nutrition for Those in Need

December 8, 2011  

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Victoria Ahmadi
vahmad@smu.edu

Sign showing Lone Star cards are accepted. (Photo by Victoria Ahmadi/Beyond the Bubble staff).

After a one-year battle between advocates for low-income residents and the City of Dallas, the Dallas Farmer’s Market has agreed to accept the Lone Star food stamp card, giving lower income shoppers access to fresh produce.

Fifty-four–year-old Sabrina Jones of Dallas is a struggling grandmother who receives governmental aid to provide for her four grandchildren and her 84 year-old mother. Jones works part-time doing secretarial work for an attorney so that she can juggle her time between work and family.

“Most grocery stores accept food stamps but there isn’t the same quality of produce as there is at the Dallas Farmer’s Market,” Jones said. “I’ve shopped at Betty’s Tomatoes for years, we love it down there.”

Jones receives help from CitySquare, formerly known as Central Dallas Ministries, and the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, in order to keep her family well fed and happy. She said that she is already planning their next family outing to the market to pick out some wholesome foods.

CitySquare proposed a petition last year in an effort to bring nutritional awareness and healthier selections to those receiving SNAP benefits. The new policy was announced Nov. 9 at CitySquare’s Hunger-Summit kickoff. The farmer’s market will start accepting the Lone Star Card, which is used to collect SNAP benefits, this spring.

CitySquare’s Public Policy Department undertook the petition because of its concern for the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables for Dallas citizens on public assistance.

Rev. Gerald Britt, Jr., Vice-President of CitySquare Public Policy and Community Program Development, says that the public was very active in the petition drive.

“Because we met with initial reticence to the idea, we began the petition drive to demonstrate to the Dallas Farmers Market, the City Council and other officials at City Hall, that there was public support for such a move,” Britt said.

Petitions were signed online, in CitySquare’s food pantry, and at its Urban Engagement Book Club meetings, as well as at a screening of the documentary ‘Food Stamped’ at the Angelika Theater. All told, the group gathered about 600 signatures over the past year.

CitySquare works to address the root causes of poverty in Dallas. The organization’s Nurture, Knowledge and Nutrition (NKN) program recognizes that addressing hunger and health is the most cost-effective way to help low-income families.

Michele Kopel, Resource Center Manager of CitySquare, said that it’s a very exciting time for the non-profit organization and all of those whose efforts have finally paid off. “With the consistent public pressure and the petitioners, we were able to make this happen,” she said.

Kopel said that it was time for a change, considering that the number of Farmer’s Markets across the country that have already been accepting food stamps.

“It’s a win-win situation for the Dallas Farmer’s Market and the public because both parties are able to get things at a reduced cost and promote healthy eating habits,” Kopel said.

Efforts have paid off for those receiving SNAP benefits under the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The SNAP food benefits help people with low incomes and resources buy the food they need for good health.

SNAP benefits are given to a single person or family who meets the program’s requirements. Texas’ HHSC sends a renewal application to those receiving SNAP before the end of each benefit period.

Most benefit periods last for 6 months but some can be as short as 1 month or as long as 3 years.

Entrance to the Dallas Farmer's Market. (Photo by Victoria Ahmadi/Beyond the Bubble staff).


Until now, SNAP recipients primarily shopped for food at chain grocery stores or local food pantries that are known for their minimal selection of healthy and fresh foods.

These pantries are mostly packed with frozen foods and canned goods, making it more difficult for CitySquare to promote Nurture, Knowledge and Nutrition. “Healthy choices make a big difference,” said Kopel.

According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, low-income households have a higher prevalence of health conditions related to poor nutrition than households with higher incomes.

Women with lower family income levels are 50 percent more likely to be obese than those with higher family incomes. Children of overweight mothers are more likely to be overweight themselves by age 6 than children of lean mothers.

While obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the last two decades, they have increased the most among those in the lowest income levels, especially African American and Mexican American children.

HHSC gives SNAP benefits through the Lone Star Card, a plastic card that is used like a credit card at the cash register to pay for purchases. Each month, the family’s approved monthly SNAP amount is placed in the card’s account.

Eric Childers, a 27-year-old father of four, says that he’s never shopped at the Dallas Famer’s Market but may start now.

Childers is able to provide for his four young boys with the help of the Lone Star Card and says that finding nutritious foods is the key factor. He currently buys his groceries at the local Wal-Mart but says that the produce is nowhere near the quality of that of the farmers market.

“They shouldn’t give you a Lone Star Card to get fat,” Childers said.

Those receiving food benefits may not purchase an assortment of products including vitamins, medicines, hot foods, alcoholic beverages or foods that can be consumed inside the store.

Dallas Farmer’s Market vendor Adolf Ramirez says that he is anxiously waiting on his machine that will enable him to swipe Lone Star Cards as payment.

Ramirez is a produce dealer who is known for his selection of black-eyed peas, squash, tangerines, nuts and a variety of other produce goods.

“I think it will help business a lot, I am just excited to get my machine up and running for all of the new shoppers,” Ramirez said.

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