OKLAHOMA CITY – The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Board of Directors has approved the expansion of a program that provides incentives to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables. The TSET Board of Directors approved funding to Hunger Free Oklahoma’s Double Up Oklahoma program with a $6.3 million grant over three years.
The new TSET grant, along with the opportunity to apply for federal nutrition dollars, will enable Hunger Free Oklahoma to expand the fruit and vegetable incentive program to additional grocery stores in high-need areas. The Board of Directors approved the grant at their quarterly meeting on Nov. 18.
“Good nutrition is vital to good health and the Double Up Oklahoma program has a demonstrated track record of making fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables more affordable for those in our state who experience the greatest health disparities,” said TSET Executive Director Julie Bisbee. “TSET is proud to support Hunger Free Oklahoma, and this program helps remove barriers to healthy foods and create more opportunities for healthy choices.”
In August 2020, TSET awarded seven Food System Impact Grants designed to address food insecurity and increase Oklahomans’ access to healthy and nutritious food. Hunger Free Oklahoma received $408,505 for a pilot program to expand the DUO program from farmers markets to nine grocery stores in rural Oklahoma. DUO provides vouchers to Oklahomans using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to increase participants’ abilities to buy fruits and vegetables. For every dollar spent on fruits and vegetables, the participants earn vouchers that can be used to buy more produce.
Since the program expanded, DUO participants have redeemed over $540,000 in benefits on more than 1,000 varieties of produce, helping to feed over 6,800 Oklahoma households.
“At the end of the day at Hunger Free Oklahoma, our goal is to get enough nutritious food in every family’s hands in Oklahoma and DUO is a critical part of the strategy,” said Chris Bernard, executive director of the Tulsa-based nonprofit organization. “We are grateful to the TSET Board and staff for their partnership and significant investment in Double Up Oklahoma. This historic investment will ensure that communities currently participating in DUO will be able to continue and will allow HFO to focus on securing additional investments to expand this program to other communities of need across the state.”
The point‐of‐sale pilot program at the Okemah Homeland saw a 23 percent redemption rate – $3,000 per week, a rate 13 points higher than comparable programs and national averages. As new DUO-participating pilot stores were added in the third quarter, voucher issuances increased quickly from 7,845 in May 2021 with two stores to 21,182 in July with five stores. Oklahoma is among the first states to pilot an in‐store point of sale system for fruit and vegetable redemption vouchers.
In TSET’s strategic plan, the agency seeks to address long-term needs for prevention and better health outcomes for Oklahomans. One way to fulfill these needs is investing in existing projects that aim to improve food access and distribution systems in Oklahoma.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 51.6 percent of Oklahomans eat fruit one or more times daily and 78.5 percent eat vegetables one or more times daily – making Oklahoma one of the lowest states for fruit and vegetable consumption.
Diets high in fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of many chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke. Consumption of three or more fruits and vegetables lowers the chances of premature death.
Oklahoma is also ranked 46 out of 50 as one of the most food insecure states and has worsened since the pandemic began. According to Feeding America, one in seven Oklahomans struggle with hunger. Food insecurity is often linked to obesity and improvements in state’s participation or the quality of food in food assistance programs has been a promising practice to preventing and reducing obesity in children, according to a study of Oklahoma WIC data.
Expansion of the DUO program is set to begin in 2023.