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Francis Murphy, general manager of the Neighborhood Co-op Grocery in Carbondale.

CARBONDALE — Returning for its second year, the Neighborhood Co-op is again participating in a program that will match customer’s Link dollars, stretching their money almost twice as far.

Customers of Carbondale’s Farmers Market will likely be familiar with the Link Up program — an initiative that creates access to local, fresh food for those using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. The group behind this program, Chicago’s Experimental Station, decided last year to also open this up to cooperatively owned grocery stores just like Neighborhood Co-op in Carbondale.

The funds extended to the Co-op create a limited pool of money to be put toward the plan that will double up to $25 a day of a person’s SNAP benefits in the form of store credits to be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables sold at the store.

Co-op General Manager Francis Murphy said last year’s grant was for $20,000 which had to cover some startup costs for the program as well as creating the well of matching dollars.

“Of that amount, $12,629 was redeemed for local fruits and vegetables, $1,427 was spent printing the Link Match currency, $2,573 was spent programming our (point of sale system),” Murphy wrote in an email Friday. He also said about $3,000 was carried over from last year.

This year, the grant is about half the size, however. But there’s less upfront cost.

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“Fortunately our costs will be far less this year, as the (point of sale system) is already programmed and we will only spend about $500 printing the currency,” Murphy wrote. He said the store is hopeful it will have the same amount of transactions this year as it did last year, about $13,000.

Murphy had previously said this type of program matches perfectly with the store’s mission.

“We are always looking for ways to make shopping more affordable and inclusive of our entire community, so we were delighted to receive a grant that allows us to offer healthy incentives to customers and help local producers as well,” Murphy said last year.

Looking to the future, Murphy knows that grant programs might not last forever. But he said the store is wanting to do its part to keep the offer running as long as it can. This is why it has pledged some matching funds of its own for future grant years.

“Going forward, the Co-op has pledged a $5,000 matching cash contribution to the Link Up Illinois Link Match program, during the grant period 2020-2021, to be used for Link Match nutrition incentives,” Murphy wrote on Friday.

Cory Chatman is the Link Up Illinois manager for Experimental Station and he said in an email Friday that his group hopes to make the program sustainable. Chatman said the passage of the Healthy Local Foods incentive fund, which he said puts $500,000 a year in funds for this type of programming, will help.

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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