Healthy Food, Healthy Economies, and Healthy Communities: DUO Wins in Rural Oklahoma

Healthy Food, Healthy Economies, and Healthy Communities: DUO Wins in Rural Oklahoma

 

by Richard Comeau, Program Director, Hunger Free Oklahoma

April 20, 2021

Double Up Oklahoma (DUO) is making a difference.

In the city of Okemah (Okfuskee County), which has only one full-service grocery store and some of Oklahoma’s worst health indicators, Double Up Oklahoma (DUO) is fulfilling a need. So much so that according to Homeland staff, people are coming from neighboring towns to participate in the program which makes fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable for SNAP participants.

  • Okfuskee County ranks 73 out of 77 counties in Oklahoma for worst health outcomes.[1]
  • 20% of residents suffer from diabetes, while adult obesity rates are almost twice the national average.[2]
  • Food insecurity and access play a large part in these poor health indicators with 19% of the population experiencing food insecurity and 11% living with limited grocery access.[3]

These statistics are the reason why Double Up Oklahoma, previously only available in select farmers markets, began its first grocery store pilot in the Okemah Homeland in November of 2020. Since then, DUO redemptions have averaged about $3,000 per week – allowing families to stretch their food budget and purchase a wider variety of fruits and vegetables than they otherwise could afford.

According to Terry Putman, Okemah Homeland’s Produce Manager, “Families have not only increased their purchases of staple items like bananas, apples, and carrots, they have also started buying less-common items.” During Hunger Free Oklahoma’s visit in February, Terry reported that she can “stock more produce and a wider variety than [she] ever could before [including] things like asparagus and eggplant.”

Overall, early data and interviews with store employees and shoppers indicate that DUO is off to a good start with an average of 800 households served per month. Nutrition incentives like DUO are a critical component to addressing food security and access to nutritious foods by helping low-income families stretch their dollar and reducing risks associated with buying a wider variety of produce items (including potential spoilage, adversity to trying unfamiliar foods, and need for higher calorie per dollar items).

The initial pilot is promising. HAC, Inc., Homeland’s parent company, and Hunger Free Oklahoma hope to offer DUO in 10 more stores by Summer 2022, but that is only scratching the surface.

According to US Census data analyzed by Hunger Free Oklahoma, up to 40% of Oklahoma’s geographical area is classified as Low Income and Low Access – meaning that low-income families do not live within reasonable access to a grocery store. 55 out of 77 Oklahoma counties contain a food desert. There is still considerable work to be done to increase fruit and vegetable access in these communities, and DUO is a critical component to increasing food security and improving health outcomes for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable.

Double Up Oklahoma is currently funded through September 2022 by the USDA GusNIP grant program, the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma, and individual and philanthropic contributions. To support Double Up Oklahoma and help us expand to more high-need areas, please donate or contact Heather Bryant for more information (Heather.Bryant@hungerfreeok.org).

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