Big bang launches EBT sales at Kaua‘i Community Market

PUHI — The Electronic Benefits Transfer program was met with smiles Saturday at the Kaua‘i Community Market at Kaua‘i Community College.

Sasha Figueira, the EBT coordinator for the Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank, said there were people waiting when the market opened at 10 a.m., and with about 30 minutes remaining before the 1 p.m. close, she had distributed more than $100 in EBT tokens.

“This was exciting,” she said. “Every one of the shoppers said they came because they read about it in the newspaper and almost all of the shoppers said this was their first time to the farmers market.”

Adding to the excitement, Figueira said about five vendors wanted to sign up to be EBT vendors, some after watching neighboring vendors work transactions and others after hearing about it on the radio Saturday morning.

Judy Lenthall, director of  KIFB, and some of the KIFB board of directors were on hand to watch the first day of EBT sales.

Melissa McFerrin, the coordinator for the Kaua‘i County Farm Bureau, was excited because some of the “new” shoppers wanted to sit with her to discuss becoming vendors at the market as well.

This also pleased KCC Chancellor Helen Cox, who also stopped to chat with Figueira on the first day of EBT sales.

“This is a partnership between several groups,” McFerrin said. “KIFB secured a USDA grant, which was coupled to a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant, which enabled the program to get off the ground as a pilot project.”

The partnership between KIFB, the County of Kaua‘i, the Kaua‘i County Farm Bureau, KCC and Get Fit Kaua‘i-CPPW allows recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and EBT to shop at four different farmers markets, McFerrin said.

On arrival, shoppers check with Figueira, who swipes their EBT/SNAP card and distributes what Lenthall describes as “pogs,” which can be used at stands marked with “EBT accepted here” signs.

Vendors check with Figueira for redemption after accepting the pogs for transactions.

Figueira said 19 vendors had already signed up before Saturday, and once the shoppers started browsing, about five more vendors inquired. One was Laura Cristobal of The Salty Wahine, who was thrilled about recently being accepted as a vendor with the Navy Exchange.

Sunshine Markets participating in the program include the Koloa market which opens at noon on Mondays, the Kapa‘a market on Wednesdays and the Lihu‘e market on Fridays, both starting at 3 p.m.

For more information on the Electronic Benefits Transfer program at select farmers markets, call Figueira at 246-3809 ext. 100, or email sfigueira@kauaifoodbank.org.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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