As market manager of the Winchester Farmers Market, I wanted to take this opportunity to address some concerns that have arisen in light of recent newsletters and Facebook posts.
First, I would like to apologize. Some of the wording in the statements was unclear and insensitive. I take responsibility for not giving the full picture about some of the current challenges being faced by the Market to the volunteers who send out these messages and, therefore, they were not able to give the complete story to you. I would also like to take this opportunity to clear up the misunderstandings that were created by my obtuse messaging.
In 2019, the Farmers Market created Anna’s Fund to supplement Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Health Incentive Program (HIP) customers’ food assistance budgets. As a result, each SNAP and HIP recipient purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables at our Market could receive an additional $15 from Anna’s Fund to supplement their SNAP and HIP benefits from the federal and state government, respectively.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, local OMG and organic meats and sustainable fish, as well as locally made foods
We do extensive fundraising to support Anna’s Fund.
Last year we raised over $20,000. This year we were not as successful and the fund is nearly depleted. In an effort to extend the amount of time until these funds run out, we first reduced the matching amount from $15 to $10, then announced that the matching funds would be limited to a specific window of time. The policy was never about restricting access for SNAP and HIP benefits, which have always been–and will continue to be–available without restrictions. The issue we are trying to tackle is how the Farmers Market can make Anna’s Fund’s contributions sustainable, and–by extension–how to make our market welcoming and inclusive to all shoppers.
We do extensive outreach promoting Anna’s Fund to those eligible for SNAP and HIP benefits.
This outreach involves distributing flyers (translated into 6 languages) to food pantries and other social support organizations in neighboring towns. The outreach is intended to fill the information gap – helping people to learn where they can access healthy food and vegetables. They list other neighboring farmers markets, their operating hours, and the amount of matching funds they have available.
The pandemic has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of people in need of SNAP and HIP. This has included not just an increase in individual families from Winchester and surrounding towns using food assistance benefits at the Market, but in the regular arrival of buses from adult daycare centers from surrounding towns, some buses coming from several towns away. We discovered there were 4 different daycare centers coming, each center bringing multiple buses carrying 12-20 passengers each, which tend to arrive at the same time. In 2021, the number of SNAP and HIP transactions at our market increased over 400% from 2020. The $20,000 we raised was just barely enough to cover the increase in users. This year, the Market is seeing more than double the number of end users than it saw last year.
At this rate, Anna’s Fund cannot keep pace.
We have received feedback from long-time shoppers–both those who are SNAP recipients and those who are not–that they are frustrated by the crowds and many have stopped coming to the Market. Others, especially those who are unsteady on their feet, have expressed safety concerns.
Because many of these adult day care shoppers are not English language speakers, we recruited volunteer students from the local Winchester School of Chinese Culture to assist with translation and minimize cultural misunderstandings. We have also started to develop relationships with some of the adult daycare centers to try to facilitate better coordination and a schedule that will stagger arrivals to avoid congestion. Still, the problem persists, as we have not been able to adequately coordinate with a number of the centers, and we are still facing the near deletion of Anna’s Fund.
Thank you for connecting with us to raise your voices. We hear your concerns and want to do better. This post is a response to your outreach and a hope that we, as a community, can make a real difference. I’d like to take this opportunity on behalf of the Winchester’s Farmers Market to appeal to you for help:
- Anna’s Fund needs to be replenished by the end of August, or we can no longer operate a matching fund for SNAP. Hearing the passionate response we received to our newsletter and Facebook posts, we know there are many of you who care deeply about helping those who find themselves at a tough moment in their lives. They are our neighbors. Please help us to keep Anna’s Fund alive for all shoppers in need who visit the Farmers Market by coming by the manager’s tent at the Market, or mailing a check made out to the Winchester Farmers Market (note: Anna’s Fund) to PO Box 365, Winchester, MA 01890. We also accept Paypal and Venmo (@Winchesterfarmersmarket). Your gift is tax deductible.
- While Anna’s Fund assists those facing immediate struggles with food insecurity, it does not address the structural problems that keep individuals and families stuck in this cycle of poverty. We continue to think about the big picture, and as one small step toward remedying the problem of structural food insecurity, Anna’s Fund is helping to create a food pantry council representing 8-12 neighboring towns. Between raising funds and creating this council, there is much work to be done and volunteers are always needed. If you are interested in helping with any part of Anna’s Fund drop me a line to the Market.
Fred Yen, Market manager and the Executive Director of Winchester Farmers Market Community Hub