Mira Vale staffs the Alaska Quest Card/EBT benefits table at the Aug. 3, 2013, Sitka Farmers Market
The Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, newscast on KCAW-Raven Radio featured a story about how Sitka residents on food stamps can double their Alaska Quest Card/EBT benefits at the Sitka Farmers Market.
The Alaska Quest Card is an EBT, or Electronic Benefits Transfer, program that helps people on food stamps pay for food at local grocery stores. Their monthly EBT benefits are loaded onto their Alaska Quest Card, and an amount is deducted from the card each time they buy food.
Starting last year, the Sitka Farmers Market joined several Alaska farmers markets in accepting Alaska Quest Cards/EBT benefits, and this year the number of markets accepting EBT has grown to 11 markets in Alaska. Since many farmers market vendors aren’t set up to accept charge cards, people on EBT benefits can use their cards to buy tokens (wooden nickels) at a booth at the Sitka Farmers Market, and they then can use the tokens to purchase fresh food from participating vendors.
The Alaska Quest Card/EBT booth also sells a second type of token that people not on EBT benefits can use to purchase food and other items (including arts and crafts) from participating vendors. This second token allows vendors who aren’t set up for credit/debit cards to still make sales.
Kerry MacLane uses a token to purchase produce from Sitka Farmers Market vendor Keith Nyitray during the Aug. 3, 2013, Sitka Farmers Market.
The KCAW story focused on Sitka resident Stacie Joseph, who uses EBT benefits to help pay for her food for her four kids while she attends school. Because of a grant from the state, various Alaska farmers markets are able to provide double the benefits for people using EBT benefits. For example, if someone wants to use $20 of their EBT benefits, they’ll receive $40 worth of tokens. Joseph said the doubled benefits mean that in addition to providing healthy fresh produce for her family, she can have more money available to use on her health management classes at the University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka Campus, helping her improve her earning potential.
“This program improves access to fresh, local foods to community members who are struggling financially. Additionally, the program helps increase understanding of food insecurity issues in our community and how produce and other food vendors can be part of the solution,” said Lisa Sadlier-Hart, president of the Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors, which hosts the Sitka Farmers Markets.