Expanding the reach of Double Up Indiana, a SNAP-matching program

This story was made possible by support from the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation.
Even though Indiana is known for its significant agricultural output, close to a million Hoosiers deal with food insecurity, according to Feeding America. But it’s not about access to just any food, leaders addressing food insecurity want to make sure people can access affordable and nutritious food that promotes health and prevents disease

In 2020, leaders at the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation (SJCHF) helped launch Double Up Indiana, a program that allows people who use SNAP/EBT cards to double their buying power when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Participants receive a dollar’s worth of fruits and vegetables for every SNAP dollar they spend for up to $20 per day.

Rachel Von Art LLCThe produce selection at the Woods Edge Family Farm booth.A USDA grant enabled the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation to expand SNAP-matching programs in Allen County in 2020. The organization received a $500,000 matching grant, meaning that it had to “double up” to find an additional half-million dollars. Matching funds were found, and Double Up Indiana has flourished in Fort Wayne since. 

“The program really kicked off in Allen County in 2021, and we affiliated with the brand name Double Up,” says Mary Tyndall, communications and food programs director for SJCHF at the time of this interview.

Double Up Food Bucks Michigan, which has approximately 250 participating sites, helped the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation start Double Up in Allen County. Currently, 53 locations (farmers markets and grocery stores) across the state are Double Up participants. This includes 11 locations in Fort Wayne.

Rachel Von Art LLCSignage for the Double Up program at Fort Wayne's Farmers Market on Dynamo Alley.While SJCHF’s efforts have helped get more fruits and vegetables into the hands of Allen County residents, hunger remains a problem in the state. 

To help address this the Indiana Department of Health, which helped fund the growth of Double Up in Indiana, has applied for a grant that would allow Double Up to expand to even more locations across the state.

“Communities have operated Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)-matching programs across Indiana for the last 10-plus years,” says Michelle Shippy, Food Is Medicine director at the Indiana Department of Health’s Division of Nutrition & Physical Activity (DNPA). 

In 2021, Shippy says, the DNPA was awarded a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant designated toward SNAP-matching programs. The DNPA contracted with the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation to take the lead in implementing and expanding these efforts. Double Up Indiana is an integral part of this work. 

Tyndall explains that the Indiana Department of Health is applying for a large-scale Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). If approved, the award would allow the state of Indiana to expand and improve the scope and reach of Double Up Indiana. 

“This means that the SNAP-matching program, which allows residents receiving SNAP benefits to have access to more fresh, local fruits and vegetables, would continue and also grow to include more farmers markets and possibly retail sites across the state,” Tyndall says. “Future funding is needed to continue that work and expand on it.”

Today, 11 locations in Fort Wayne participate in the Double Up program. They include Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market, Hardy’s Farm Market, Hungry Dog Farm CSA, Plowshares at the Market, Plowshares Burmese Specialty Market, South Side Farmers HEAL Market, Parkview Community Greenhouse HEAL Market, McCormick Place HEAL Market, 3 Rivers Food Co-op, Health Food Shoppe of Fort Wayne, and Pontiac Street Market. The newest site is Pontiac Street Market, which has been operating since January, started with a coupon system, and now provides half-off SNAP purchases for fruits and vegetables, up to $20 per day. 

Rachel Von Art LLCA sign for Fort Wayne's Farmers Market at Electric Works.“Over the course of the last three and a half years, we have matched approximately $300,000, so that would be $300,000 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables that are going to families who pay with SNAP or food stamps,” says Tyndall. 

Double Up has been so successful in Allen County that the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation has worked with the Indiana Department of Health to provide smaller grants to farm markets across Indiana to start their own Double Up programs. 

“That’s been successful as well,” says Tyndall, noting that the Foundation has awarded 37 grants to farmers markets across the state.

Now, the work of administering Double Up and growing the program even more across the state is shifting to the Indiana Department of Health, SJCHF Executive Director Meg Distler says.

Benefits of the Indiana Department of Health managing the statewide Double Up program are twofold, she explains. First, increased rates of diabetes and other health problems are correlated to processed foods, and many people need to improve the quality of their nutritional intake. 

Rachel Von Art LLC A variety of produce at the Berry Hill Farm booth during the Fort Wayne's Farmers Market at Electric Works.“One outcome that we’re watching is the improved health outcome—obviously, the Health Department is involved in [Double Up] for that reason.” 

The second has to do with where the food comes from.

 “[Double Up] is an income revenue stream for a lot of agribusinesses in the state, and I think it’s important for it to go statewide,” Distler says. “The food is frequently concentrated and distributed out of the bigger cities—Fort Wayne being a bigger one—but it’s grown in the more rural areas and counties. Getting to a statewide system enables us to manage the food system as a regional issue, and that’s where we see big benefits.” 

Rachel Von Art LLCA customer picks up garlic scapes at the Berry Hill Farm booth.Distler explains as part of the Double Up program, there is a big emphasis on providing as much local food as possible. She says the Health Food Shoppe, 3 Rivers Food Co-op, Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market, and Plowshares at the Market all prioritize local produce. They carry produce from Berry Hill Farm and other local growers. Additionally, produce from Fort Wayne farmer George McCowan is available at Pontiac Street Market.

“They’re really seeing a benefit on the economic side as well for the small farmers,” she says. “That’s a good thing because it’s hard to make it as a small farmer.”

There are benefits to eating locally, according to Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems. Because locally grown food has a much shorter distance to get from the field or garden to your table, it retains more nutrients. And because crops are picked when they are ripe, when they have fewer miles to travel, they maintain more flavor.

Northeast Indiana is, of course, much larger than Fort Wayne and Allen County, so the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation is partnering more with the Northeast Indiana Local Food Network. Together, the two organizations are working to bolster the food system in the 11-county Northeast Indiana region (Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells, and Whitley counties). 

“That’s where we’re putting some local support into creating a regional hub, and we are working closely to support the effort that will become statewide,” Distler says. 

Rachel Von Art LLCOn vine tomatoes at Fort Wayne's Farmers Market on Dynamo Alley. Local Food Network Founding Director Janet Katz says she’s hopeful her organization will play a larger role in SNAP Double Up in the future.

Through the GusNIP grant that the Indiana Department of Health has applied for, Michelle Shippy of the Health Department is hoping to have three regional partners throughout the state to make sure Double Up is working well and to reach more farmers markets and farmstands statewide. 

“If this grant is successful, [the Northeast Indiana Local Food Network] will become a partner in [the northeast] part of the state,” Katz says. 

One of the reasons for this is that the St. Joe Community Health Foundation is primarily focused on Allen County, while the Northeast Indiana Local Food Network is regional. The NWI Food Council and Urban Seeds are two other organizations in Indiana that are working on Double Up on a regional basis.

“Assuming that this grant is successfully subsidized by the USDA, we will start working on this later this year or early in 2025 during the time of transition,” Katz says. “We will work very closely with the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation in that transition, and then we’ll be helping to coordinate Double Up efforts across the region moving forward.”

Rachel Von Art LLCOrganic Lacinato Kale at Plowshares At The Market.Kristi Sturtz, a community and economic development consultant who has a deep history in Fort Wayne, is working with the Northeast Indiana Local Food Network on a local food needs assessment. The primary purpose of her work is to arrive at a general understanding of what the local food system is and how to optimize that system. One of the key areas she is focusing on is food insecurity, and her work will inform further efforts to meet the needs of food-insecure individuals in Northeast Indiana. Sturtz has brought in a sub-consultant for this project, Kate Vellucci of Maine, whose background is in food systems. 

Rachel Von Art LLCOnions from the Berry Hill Farm booth during the Fort Wayne's Farmers Market at Electric Works.Tyndall says GusNIP grant applicants should hear this fall if they receive grant money. 

“We’re confident in the grant proposal,” she says. “We helped them shape that proposal, but you never know with grants, and you never know what’s going to happen—we just want to make sure people understand this is not a 100 percent guarantee, but given the State Department of Health’s commitment to this program, if they don’t get all the grant dollars, we believe they’ll find ways to support Double Up, because they’re committed to it, and of course, I know we are here in Allen County as well.” 
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