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INDIANAPOLIS --

Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana is receiving a $100,000 federal grant to make it easier for low-income Hoosiers users to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Gleaners will use the money for its Fresh Bucks Indy Consumer Choice Pilot Program.

Under the program, food-insecure individuals will receive 50 percent off their purchase of up to $20 in fruits and vegetables at farmers markets or the Kroger on Linwood Avenue on the east side. On that same visit, they’ll also receive a coupon from Kroger for 50 percent off of any fruit and vegetable purchase up to $10 at any Kroger store.

While Gleaners has arranged for food-insecure families to use Fresh Bucks for a number of years at farmers markets and Pogue’s Run Grocer, the grant now allows them to be to used at that specific Kroger.

The program will be available to clients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, or SNAP, a federal program that helps low-income people get the food they need.

“Some of these families are really living on some very narrow margins, and $20 is a big deal,” said Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary. “By (offering this grant) it takes a little bit of pressure off the food banks that are struggling to meet demand.”

One in eight people in Central and southeast Indiana struggle with food insecurity, according to the nonprofit's website.

Gleaners' program is targeting the East Indy Promise Zone, an area of Indianapolis that has a large number of SNAP users.The main purpose of the program is to give people in that area the incentives and ability to start eating healthier foods to improve their lives and health outcomes, said Cindy Hubert, president and CEO of Gleaners.

The food bank hopes to increase the percentage of produce purchased by SNAP users.

“What we do know is that all of us have chronic health issues, whether it be obesity, diabetes, blood pressure (issues),” Hubert said. “If we can encourage people to eat better foods, we as a community will do much better on our outcomes.”

Gleaners will pair the incentives with educational opportunities, like cooking demonstrations at Kroger highlighting ways to eat healthy foods and resources on nutritious meal plans.

Kathy Keiner, the chief programs and agency relations officer at Gleaners, called the grant a game changer.

The grant given to Gleaners was part of the $16.8 million the U.S. Department of Agriculture this week announced would fund projects in 18 states through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program.

This is the second round of grants authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, which will allow the distribution of $100 million during the life of the bill. In spring 2015, the USDA gave $31.5 million worth of grants.

There were three types of grants awarded in the second round: pilots worth $100,000, multiyear community-based projects worth up to $500,000 and multiyear large-scale projects worth $500,000 or greater.

Vilsack said the program is based on research conducted during President Obama’s first term, which found that SNAP users purchased more fresh fruits and vegetables when given incentives. They’ll continue to re-evaluate the success of the program.

The recent round of grants ties in well with USDA's attempt to encourage everyone to eat healthier, Vilsack said.

"The reality is families that are financially challenged ... they ought to access fruits and vegetables, because we know if they do, they have potentially better health outcomes," Vilsack said. "It's a way of addressing obesity challenges, and it reinforces the message we are sending to young children (about eating healthy)."

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