TSET grants fighting hunger, improving access to healthier foods
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Food insecurity, already a problem in Oklahoma, has worsened since the coronavirus pandemic began. According to Feeding America, 1 in 7 people and 1 in 5 children in Oklahoma struggle with hunger and having access to nutritious and affordable food.
In an effort to meet the need for increased food assistance and improve availability of healthy foods, the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) created a new grant program last year to support projects and organizations doing this work. The TSET Board of Directors committed $1 million to this effort in 2020.
TSET’s mission is to fight Oklahoma's two leading causes of preventable death – cancer and cardiovascular disease – by encouraging Oklahomans to eat better, move more and be tobacco free. Proper nutrition is vital to good health and lack of access to healthy foods has been associated with an increase in poor health outcomes, obesity and health care costs.
“Oklahoma lags behind most states in the number of residents who are getting enough fruits and vegetables, and more than half of our state’s counties don’t have ample access to healthy foods,” said Julie Bisbee, TSET executive director. “Increasing availability and engaging communities in that effort is key to supporting health in our state.”
Hunger Free Oklahoma received TSET funding to expand the Double Up Oklahoma (DUO) program in up to 11 grocery stores in nine counties across rural Oklahoma. The program provides vouchers to Oklahomans using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and will help participants buy more fruits and vegetables. The program works with grocery stores in Delaware, Garfield, Jackson, Kay, Kiowa, Marshall, Okfuskee, Seminole and Washington counties. The Double Up produce voucher system is currently in use at more than 12 farmers markets across the state as well.
“The DUO program provides SNAP participants with a one-to-one match to purchase healthy, locally-grown fruits and vegetables at participating Farmers Markets and Grocery Stores in Oklahoma,” said Richard Comeau, program director of Hunger Free Oklahoma. “Last year DUO helped thousands of low-income Oklahomans purchase over $100,000 in fresh fruits and vegetables.”
The pandemic not only puts Oklahoma’s senior citizens at greater risk of severe illness and premature death, it limits their availability to get nutritious foods. TSET awarded funding to RSVP Enid to support the Enid Mobile Meals program, helping deliver healthy meals daily to senior citizens in their community. Inadequate nutrition impacts the quality of life for older adults and can make it more difficult to manage ongoing health conditions.
“It’s more than just a meal, it’s a lifeline into their needs. In terms of change, the funding from TSET is immeasurable,” said Christy Baker, executive director of RSVP Enid. “The programs which benefit our local seniors are derived from a need, a deficit that once existed in our community, and TSET has allowed us to continue to fight senior hunger, isolation and loneliness.”
Another recipient of the TSET Food Systems Impact Grants is the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Regional Food Bank and its partner agencies have witnessed up to a 30% increase in need among Oklahomans facing food insecurity. Many are seeking food assistance for the first time. The Regional Food Bank works with 314 community-based partner agencies in 53 counties in central and western Oklahoma. These agencies range from public-access food pantries to shelters and soup kitchens and programs for schools.
The TSET grant is helping the Regional Food Bank to expand the Senior Servings Program to 12 partner agencies in order to provide nutritious food to eligible seniors living independently.
“We appreciate the support of the TSET grant to help us reach more seniors and ensure they are receiving the nutritious food they need to remain living in their homes,” said Stacy Dykstra, CEO of the Regional Food Bank. “It takes all of us working together to help fight hunger in Oklahoma.”
Additional TSET grants and programs, like Shape Your Future’s healthy shopping lists and grocery store signage, are helping to educate Oklahomans about the importance of healthy eating. By addressing our greatest health needs, such as reducing tobacco use and increasing access to nutritious foods, Oklahoma will become a healthier place for all. To learn more, visit TSET.OK.GOV.
This article is sponsored by the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET).
Eddie Roach is a contributing writer for BrandInsight, The Oklahoman's sponsored content product. Semi-retired, he creates content and writes blogs for a variety of clients after a 40-year career in various print and online communications roles,... Read more ›
The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) works to reduce tobacco use and obesity, the two leading causes of preventable death in Oklahoma. In addition to statewide and community grants, TSET funds a variety of public health education programs including the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, Tobacco Stops With Me and Shape Your Future to help inform Oklahomans about healthy choices in an effort to prevent and reduce cancer and cardiovascular disease. TSET was created by voters who passed an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution in 2000 to set aside a portion of the lawsuit settlement payments from the national Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement to fund grants and programs to reduce the toll of tobacco and improve health in Oklahoma. TSET does not receive tobacco tax dollars and is funded by earnings from an endowment that is invested by an appointed board. An appointed Board of Directors oversee the expenditures of the annual earnings. Since TSET began funding a comprehensive program to prevent and reduce tobacco use, 42,280 lives and $1.24 billion in tobacco-related medical costs have been saved in Oklahoma. Learn more at tset.ok.gov. Read more ›