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Oklahoma nonprofit gets record-breaking grant to expand healthy food access in Tulsa and beyond

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Communities in Tulsa that struggle with food security will soon see more fruits and veggies.

This month the United States Department of Agriculture announced that nonprofit Hunger Free Oklahoma will receive a record-breaking $14.2 million over four years to expand a program called Double Up Oklahoma that gets produce to low-income communities.

It works by matching dollars from SNAP, a federal nutrition assistance plan. After SNAP recipients buy groceries, they get up to $20 per day in the form of a voucher or credit to spend only on produce.

Chris Bernard, CEO of Hunger Free, said the program helps communities as a whole because it brings more healthy food to stores for everyone.

“Instead of ordering produce once a week, they’re ordering it three or four times a week which means fresher produce for that whole community, whether they use our program or not,” said Bernard.

Bernard also said the program contributes a larger variety of produce.

“Stores can afford to start to order new products and see what people like. So it’s been really fun to watch over the last two years and we’re excited to see it expand.”

The plan for the grant is to branch out to more stores in Tulsa and beyond. Bernard said seven rural communities have the program now, but with the new funds, he’s hoping as many as 40 could be reached. 10,000 people are currently enrolled; Bernard said the target is at least 40,000 by the end of the four-year grant period.

The money, which Bernard said he thinks is the biggest award in history for this particular USDA program, was a match effort. Hunger Free actually rose $21 million but the return from the USDA was capped at $14.2 million.

Donors included businesses in the Tulsa community, with about $9 million coming from Ascension St. John. The state is contributing a recurring $1.1 million a year, and the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust will give $6.3 million over the next two years for a total three-year commitment.

In Tulsa right now, the program operates in Oasis Market at Pine and Peoria, through R & G Family Grocers, and in farmers markets.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.