By Fritz Esker
Louisiana Healthcare Connections has announced that it is sponsoring a SNAP match program for mobile fresh produce markets operated by the local non-profit Sankofa in New Orleans.
Sankofa, founded in 2008, operates mobile fresh produce markets three days a week where SNAP benefits are accepted. The SNAP/EBT matching program offers a dollar-to-dollar match of up to $10 for purchases made with a SNAP card at any of Sankofa’s markets. The markets move from location to location to underserved areas in the city, including places like the Lower 9th Ward Senior Center, the Daughters of Charity Health Center at St. Cecilia, the Hollygrove Senior Center, and other locations.
Louisiana Healthcare Connections is a Healthy Louisiana Medicaid health plan that provides no-cost health insurance to those deemed Medicaid eligible by Louisiana.
“This allows families to get $20 worth of healthy, locally grown, nutritious foods for $10,” said Kendra Case, chief operating officer of Louisiana Healthcare Connections. “The program is open to anyone who purchases food products with a SNAP card.”
Rashida Ferdinand, executive director of Sankofa, said this funding is important because many people’s SNAP benefits have been reduced, thus limiting their ability to buy healthy foods.
Case said that Louisiana Healthcare Connections wants to ensure that underserved communities and vulnerable populations have access to high-quality fresh foods, as well as aiding the growth and sustainability of local farmers.
“Our sponsorship of this program is a win-win. We are helping Sankofa to increase food access, and supporting the sustainability of local farmers,” said Case.
When people in underserved neighborhoods are unable to get access to affordable, nutritious food, it is called food insecurity. People who are victims of food insecurity are often exposed to health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and poor mental health. Children in these neighborhoods are more frequently ill, recover more slowly from illnesses, and are hospitalized more often.
Aside from the financial benefits of Sankofa’s partnership with Louisiana Healthcare Connections, there is also an educational component.
“Providing access to healthy foods is important, but it’s also important to connect local families to education about healthy diets and how to prepare healthy foods,” said Case. “As part of the sponsorship, Louisiana Healthcare Connections will underwrite Sankofa’s 2019 Healthy Heartbeats classes (www.sankofanola.org/healthyheartbeats), which provide healthy eating and nutrition education through collaborative, communal food preparation workshops.”
Sankofa is committed to making the Lower 9th Ward a healthier neighborhood for all of its residents. They have been doing mobile markets since 2015 and started the Healthy Heartbeats Classes in 2017. Many of the people who attend the classes have never received any education on healthy eating habits. Class attendees are given “veggie prescription” vouchers to purchase fresh produce at one of Sankofa’s markets.
“We don’t have a lot of markets that sell fresh produce in our neighborhood and we’re trying to provide that,” said Ferdinand.
This article originally appeared in The Louisiana Weekly.