OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An Oklahoma organization has been awarded a grant to help feed Oklahomans in need.

Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that Hunger Free Oklahoma was 1 of 35 recipients nationally to be awarded a Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program COVID-19 Relief and Response grant.

The grant worth $650,000 helps the Double Up Oklahoma program at 27 farmers markets and grocery stores. The program offers a dollar for dollar match on SNAP purchases for fruits and vegetables at participating stores.

“NIFA’s Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, COVID-19 Relief and Response grants help low-income communities offer incentives to improve the affordability and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by vulnerable participants, many of whom may have been affected by the pandemic,” said NIFA director Dr. Carrie Castille. “GusNIP awardees are particularly well-positioned to respond with pandemic relief in an impactful and timely way.”

Officials say the program will allow for the continuation of the program through September 2022 and will expand it to underserved communities across the state.

“Since COVID-19, the demand on our DUO program has doubled. Over 1,500 families per week utilized DUO at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, many of whom were furloughed or laid off and were looking for any resource to make ends meet. Even as the economy has rebounded, we continue to see high rates of participation in the program,” said Richard Comeau, program director at Hunger Free Oklahoma.

Through an existing partnership with Homeland Stores, Double Up Oklahoma will begin operating at the new Homeland at NE 36th and Lincoln on Sept. 1 in conjunction with the store’s grand opening.

“Results from the past year of the program are promising. Feedback from customers and sales data indicate that DUO participants were able to stretch their dollar further, increase the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in their grocery carts, and buy more produce overall,” said Chris Bernard, executive director at Hunger Free Oklahoma. “We can’t ask for better results than more purchasing power for food insecure Oklahomans, increasing fruit and vegetable purchases, and additional dollars flowing back into our local economies.”