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Food stamp participants can stretch dollars at Lowville hospital market

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LOWVILLE — Food stamp program participants can nearly double their purchasing power at the weekly farmers market at Lewis County General Hospital through a pair of coupon programs.

“We want people to come in and use them,” said Tina M. Schell, market director and head of the hospital’s Wellness Committee.

For every $5 worth of produce purchased through the SNAP/EBT food stamp program at the market, held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Thursday, customers may receive $4 worth of coupons to buy more fruits and vegetables, Mrs. Schell said.

One woman last week walked away with four or five bags worth of goods, worth $18, while using up only $10 in SNAP/EBT benefits, she said.

“She did well, and it was all healthy stuff,” Mrs. Schell said.

Only one vendor, an Amish vegetable and fruit grower, accepts food stamps and the coupons, but the market also has several cash-only vendors who sell cheese curd, beef, honey and other items, she said.

For each $5 spent, $2 worth of coupons come from the Food Bank of Central New York’s Healthy Bucks program, while the other $2 comes through the state Fresh Connect program.

The farmers market held each Saturday at the Lewis County fairgrounds also offers Healthy Bucks coupons but not Fresh Connect ones, Mrs. Schell said.

The latter were made available because the hospital-based market was awarded a one-year, $10,000 grant through the state program, she said.

Much of that funding will be used to erect a pavilion in the county-owned hospital’s parking lot off West State Street to eliminate the need for tents at the site, Mrs. Schell said.

“We’re just waiting for the contractor,” she said.

A portion of the state funds is being used to make smaller purchases, like a hand-washing station, and to offer free passes for residents interested in taking the bus to the weekly market, each Thursday, Mrs. Schell said.

Bus passes are available through Birnie Bus, Lewis County Office for the Aging and Department of Social Services, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and at the hospital switchboard. There are no income restrictions.

The market, slated to run through the end of September, also accepts donations of produce and other food items on behalf of the Lowville Food Pantry.

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