More Than a Market: Senior citizens receive free vouchers for fresh goods

Published 9:31 am Wednesday, July 20, 2022

For the first time ever, the Oxford Community Market hosted Senior Day for local seniors to sign up for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers.

The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program provides low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for eligible foods like fruits, vegetables, honey and fresh-cut herbs at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture programs.

The OXCM is Lafayette County’s only redemption site for SFMNP. These vouchers may be used only for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We love this program because it brings so many of our elders out to farmers who can benefit from the vouchers,” said OXCM Director Betsy Chapman. “They can use it to purchase fruits and veggies right here at OXCM. And another great thing is that a lot of people have found out about the market through the voucher program, so it brings new folks to market and they become part of our market family.”

To qualify for SFMNP, individuals must be at least 60 years old and have household incomes of not more than 185 percent of the U.S. Poverty Guidelines. Some State agencies accept proof of participation or enrollment in another means-tested program, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for SFMNP eligibility.

Each eligible senior was issued a voucher worth $30. After they signed up for a voucher, seniors were able to immediately use them to buy produce from vendors in the market.

OXCM partnered with several churches in the community that provided water, refreshments and transportation to seniors who needed a voucher. Chapman said OXCM could potentially work with churches in the future to help transport seniors to the market.

Oxford local Fairy Curry said she found out about Senior Day from her church, Providence United Methodist in Abbeville, on Sunday.

“They gave us a paper in church and I said I was going to come on out and see what was going on,” said Curry. Once at the market, Curry signed up for a voucher and used about $20 of the $30 to buy tomatoes, sweet potatoes and watermelon.

“I love what they do and thank God for it,” she said. “It’s more than what I had and this is a good thing, it is. Everybody needs vegetables and I love my vegetables. I don’t have to have the meat but give me my vegetables and I’m good to go. And this is good.”

Three Rivers Planning & Development District, a private, non-profit organization formed by local government entities and business leaders to promote and aid in overall economic and social development, is one of the participating agencies that work with the Department of Agriculture and Commerce to issue vouchers to seniors in need.

Kelleigh Riddle, Area Agency on Aging Director for Three Rivers, told The Eagle they prepared approximately 200 vouchers for Senior Day.

“Last year we gave out a hundred,” said Riddle. “This year we think we can do 200 with Betsy because she’s amazing.”

Riddle anticipated they would be able to give out all the vouchers, however, if any were left over, Three Rivers will go door to door in the community to distribute the rest to eligible seniors.

Seniors with SFMNP vouchers have until October 2022 to redeem them at the farmer’s market.

Mississippi Farmers Market Nutrition Program coordinator Purvie Green said Three Rivers has done a great job with Senior Day throughout the years.

“They had a pretty large crowd today and I’m not sure of how many they issued but the great thing is that the rain held off and most people who received a voucher today will be able to buy something,” said Green.

Green said $30 vouchers may not seem like enough to buy food, but any amount of money helps when communities are being hit hard by inflation.

“For the situation we’re in right now with the [lack of] supply of food and the access to it and we’ve got some communities where grocery stores have closed down, we’re learning that every little bit counts,” said Green.

To Green, the OXCM is one of the great markets of Mississippi for its accessibility and inclusivity.

“For them to be able to come and be able to purchase fruits and vegetables from a multitude of vendors is pretty good,” he said. “Betsy Chapman does a great job of operating and managing the market. There are some great vendors and some great farmers participating here.”

Chapman said OXCM strives to help as many people in the community as it can.

“We’re still trying to get the word out that we’re more than a market,” she said. “We’re a service organization committed to improving access to healthy food which is exactly what these vouchers do.”

OXCM not only participates in the SFMNP. The market also participates in the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, a program where eligible WIC participants are issued FMNP coupons in addition to their regular WIC benefits, and the SNAP Incentives Program.

“We are deeply committed and working on expanding access to those programs so we can truly be more than a market,” Chapman said.

For more information on the Oxford Community Market, visit www.oxfordcommunitymarket.com. For more on Mississippi’s Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, visit www.mdac.ms.gov/agency-info/programs/mississippi-farmers-market-nutrition-program.