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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A $6.3 million grant will be dedicated to providing food to folks in need after the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) Board of Directors approved expanding a program that incentivizes buying fruits and vegetables.

The Board of Directors approved the Food System Impact Grant on Nov. 18, during a quarterly meeting. The expansion is scheduled to begin in 2023.

The grant will spread the $6.3 million over three years to Hunger Free Oklahoma’s Double Up Oklahoma program, according to a TSET news release.

The grant and opportunities to apply for federal nutrition dollars will help Hunger Free Oklahoma expand fruit and vegetable incentive programs to more grocery stores in areas where more people in need of financial assistance live.

“Good nutrition is vital to good health and the Double Up Oklahoma program has a demonstrated track record of making fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables more affordable for those in our state who experience the greatest health disparities,” said TSET Executive Director Julie Bisbee. “TSET is proud to support Hunger Free Oklahoma, and this program helps remove barriers to healthy foods and create more opportunities for healthy choices.”

(AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Seven Food System Impact Grants were awarded in August, each intended to combat hunger by providing nutritious food. Hunger Free Oklahoma received $408,505 for a pilot program to expand Double Up Oklahoma’s (DUO) reach from farmers markets to nine rural Oklahoma grocery stores.

Oklahomans who use the Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program (SNAP) receive DUO vouchers to help them buy fruits and vegetables.

“For every dollar spent on fruits and vegetables, the participants earn vouchers that can be used to buy more produce,” the news release states.

DUO’s expansion has so far resulted in DUO participants redeeming over $540,000 in benefits on more than 1,000 varieties of produce, helping feed over 6,800 Oklahoma households.

“At the end of the day at Hunger Free Oklahoma, our goal is to get enough nutritious food in every family’s hands in Oklahoma and DUO is a critical part of the strategy,” said Chris Bernard, executive director of the Tulsa-based nonprofit organization. “We are grateful to the TSET Board and staff for their partnership and significant investment in Double Up Oklahoma. This historic investment will ensure that communities currently participating in DUO will be able to continue and will allow HFO to focus on securing additional investments to expand this program to other communities of need across the state.”

Oklahoma has one of the lowest fruit and vegetable consumption rates in the nation, with only 51.6 percent of Oklahomans eating fruit one or more times each day and 78.5 percent eating vegetables one or more times a day.

Diets that includes large amounts of fruits and vegetables reduce risk of many chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke. Eating three or more fruits and vegetables lowers the possibility of premature death, according to the news release.

Oklahoma ranks 46 out of 50 in the nation for most food insecure states, with the situation worsening since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. One in seven Oklahomans struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America.

“Food insecurity is often linked to obesity and improvements in state’s participation or the quality of food in food assistance programs has been a promising practice to preventing and reducing obesity in children, according to a study of Oklahoma WIC data,” the news release states.