Screen-Shot-2013-06-15-at-7.30.15-AM-Version-2-300x200By Tina Dirmann

staff writer for BCBS of Louisiana Foundation

As our last official Challenge Grant post of 2013, I though it appropriate to reflect back on one of our most important missions of the past year – putting healthier foods on the tables of Louisiana families.

Sounds simple. But not so simply accomplished.

There are areas of our great state where even getting to a grocery store takes effort – if you live a mile or more away from that Winn Dixie, and have only your legs to carry you there, your arms to transport groceries home.

There are moms and dads in Louisiana that, even once they get to a grocery, struggle to afford the higher-priced veggies and health foods offered.

There are families that, even if they can buy fresh produce, have been without it for so long, they no longer have the know-how to prepare it.

Hard to imagine, especially this time of year, when so many of us have gathered around our own holiday dinner tables, over-flowing with the home-cooked delicacies that make-up long-standing family traditions.

image_5669-300x195That’s why, to me, the perfect year-end blog topic highlights a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant partner doingimage_5669 their part to bring healthy food to those most in need. This past fall, the Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative (awarded $500,000 from BCBSLAF in 2012, after putting up $500,000 of their own funding) helped launch MarketMatch at the Natchitoches Cane River Green Market. Under the program, families using their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cards to shop at the market received an additional $20 in spending credit. After swiping a SNAP card, the shopper got 20 additional $1 tokens. The Food Bank of Central Louisiana even stepped in to promote MarketMatch among families receiving food boxes. Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program participants and social security recipients were tapped to give it a try (though, it should be noted, anyone carrying a SNAP card is eligible).

So, did families embrace the new benefit? Even when they’ve never, in some cases, been to a farmers market in their lives?

“They loved it,” said Samantha Bonnette, public relations manager for Main Street Natchitoches, who was on-hand every Saturday to oversee the new program. “I honestly had one guy tell me it was the best thing ever. We had people coming to a farmers market for the first time. Even though they’ve seen us out there before, on the downtown riverbank, they never came because they just assumed it was too expensive for them. But after MarketMatch started, they would come and buy homemade jams and salsas, fresh greens, bell peppers — one guy came for our fresh baked bread every week. I think everyone we offered that match to spent that match. “
The MarketMatch concept has been used in other states across the country, said Kira McAllister, business coordinator for

“It’s not unique throughout the country, but it is rather unique for our state,” McAllister said. “Some farmers markets in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, they do accept SNAP cards. But in the really small markets, usually where it’s needed most, you just don’t see it.”

Needed most, in fact, in Central Louisiana, where 25% of residents receive SNAP benefits (compared to 15% nationwide).

Another added benefit? The farmers working the markets each month now have a new population of customers.

“Traditionally, electronic benefits customers have not been a large part of our customer base,” McAllister said. “But now they are. And that helps the famers, too.”


The market is now closed for the winter, but will re-open in the spring of 2014 (April 26). And I’m happy to report that the fall MarketMatch project was such a success, it will continue to operate on a permanent basis.

One more thing – the new machines installed to accept SNAP card swipes also accepts regular debit and credit cards, making it even easier for everyone to shop (with or without cash in hand).

On that note, I’ll close this final Challenge Grant blog entry of 2013. And simply wish you all a happy, healthy and bountiful New Year!