Market Bucks: Giving Back To The Mercer Island Community

This article can also be found in the November 2016 issue of Mercer Island Living Magazine.

Every year, Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season and all of the joyous festivities that come with it. It’s a time when everyone seems to be out buying gifts for their friends and families as well as planning extravagant meals. Contrary to popular belief, however, not every Islander is always fortunate enough to finance the joys of the holiday season. In fact, for many, the holidays can be a time riddled with worry. 

For the past eight years, the Market Bucks program, implemented by the Mercer Island Farmers Market (MIFM), has enabled low-income people to obtain fresh produce during the Market season. Market Bucks operate much like cash in that shoppers can redeem them at any Market vendor. The program allows low-income families access to fresh produce that may otherwise be too expensive for them or unavailable at the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (MIYFS) Food Pantry. Having a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables is critical in preventing diabetes and other diseases. In fact, many of those who access the Food Pantry are not underweight, but instead obese and diabetic. In 2014, Feeding America reported that out of the 15.5 million households surveyed, one-third contained someone with diabetes, making access to fresh produce absolutely crucial for healthy living.

This year, Mercer Island’s very own Aljoya made an additional donation toward Market Bucks for seniors who use the MIYFS Food Pantry. Partnered with generous donations from the Mercer Island Community Fund and New Seasons Market, MIFM was able to triple the amount of money allotted for Market Bucks.

The Market Bucks program has augmented the food budgets of low-income Islanders, and is therefore  greatly appreciated by MIYFS. “[The program] makes people feel good about what they can buy, and seeing the recipients’ reactions is the most rewarding part of the program,” says Cindy Goodwin, Director of MIYFS. Marla Becker, Executive Director at Aljoya, attests further to the overwhelming appreciation for Aljoya’s support, adding that “Many people have stopped by our booth at the Market to say thanks.” The Market Bucks program could not be made possible without Aljoya’s generous contributions, which include chef demos, shopping bags and fully underwriting fundraisers for MIFM. The MIFM needs the support of local businesses like Aljoya as well as individuals to bridge the gap between the vendor fees and the costs of keeping the Market open.

MIFM was just getting its start in 2008 when the folks at Aljoya noted that a partnership between the two would be a perfect fit; MIFM was in need of funding, and Aljoya knew their residents would enjoy shopping there for fresh and healthy food. Furthermore, funding a local non-profit organization would  make Aljoya’s residents feel more welcome and connected to their community, explains Ms. Becker, adding that the committed partnership between Aljoya and MIFM also encourages more healthy eating among seniors and young families alike. Moreover, it’s a win-win scenario for all parties involved: low-income people have access to fresh produce and local farmers and vendors enjoy increased sales.

Despite the great success of MIFM and the Market Bucks program, Aljoya has remained humble.

“We’re not really worried about receiving thanks,” says Ms. Becker. Nonetheless, the MIFM Board of Directors would like to express their gratitude to Aljoya and all of their Mercer Island business sponsors for their continued support. Clearly, the generosity of the Mercer Island community has given low-income Islanders a chance at leading healthier lives – and just in time for the holidays, what could be a better feeling than that?

(See www.mifarmersmarket.org for a full list of sponsors)

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