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In Gage County there are about 2,730 people struggling to put enough food on the table for themselves and their children.

That’s about 12.5 percent of the total population. On top of that, about 42 percent of people live below the threshold of 130 percent of the poverty line that would make them eligible for food stamps.

Food insecurity is a large problem in Gage County and in Beatrice, and Public Health Solutions is looking to get public input on a new program that aims to keep fridges full of healthy food.

On Jan. 18, Public Health Solutions, in partnership with Gage County Extension, will hold a public meeting at the Public Health Solutions office at 2 p.m. at 5109 W. Scott St. to discuss the future implementation of the Double Up Food Bucks program in Gage County.

The Double Up Food Bucks program—which is currently operational in Lincoln—works like this: when people who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or EBT cards purchase fresh fruits or vegetables from partner locations, they receive a dollar per each dollar spent to use on another purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables, up to $20 a day. The program’s initial partners are planned to be the Beatrice Farmers Market and Heartland Foods in Beatrice.

Public Health Solutions hopes the project is up and running by this spring, just in time for the Beatrice Farmers Market, said Sharon Leners, a nurse with PHS. Leners said the group expects the effect on the community to be threefold.

“You're increasing your local economy because people will be purchasing more local fresh fruits and vegetables by getting that money on the card,” she said. “Then, you're going to have better access, because more food's going to be grown, hopefully, and they'll be able to supply it better. Also, you’re creating a healthier community and environment by encouraging those fresh fruits and vegetables.”

The Lincoln program works in association with Leon’s Gourmet Grocer as well as the three farmers markets in town. People enrolled in the program in Beatrice would be able to use their Double Up Food Bucks at the Lincoln locations as well, she said.

The Beatrice and Gage County is a bit of a pilot market for the program, Leners said, and they want to start small before branching out into other counties.

“We would like to be able to do this in all of our counties at some time,” she said. “Beatrice has the largest farmers market in our district right now, so that's why we started with Beatrice Farmers Market.”

Thursday’s community assessment will be led by a UNL Extension educator, Leners said, who will be on hand to answer questions about the Double Up Food Bucks program.

“We would like all different types of people from the community to come,” she said. “We're looking for people in different age groups, different ethnicities, different income levels, different education levels. We're just looking for a diverse population of people to attend the community meeting.”

Snacks will be provided at the meeting, Leners said, and they’ll be mostly healthy fruits and vegetables.

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