Children participating in the Kids Market @ The Store program receive a passport to track their progress through the summer.
More than 3,300 children are signed up for Kids Market @ The Store, a free summer produce program from the West Virginia University Extension Family Nutrition Program.
That’s more than double the number of participants organizers had planned for — so the Family Nutrition Program is hoping to secure additional funding partners to allow interested families to participate.
“We anticipated a good response, since our pilot program was so successful last year. But we didn’t expect this many families would be interested,” Kristin McCartney, WVU Extension assistant professor and Public Health Specialist, said.
The program, which is open to all children ages 2 to 17, allows kids to “shop” for free fruits and vegetables at participating retail locations in their counties. Each family receives $30 in tokens, which children spend at the store’s Kids Market @ The Store display.
These displays are stocked each week with fresh fruits and vegetables grown by West Virginia farmers. At the checkout, store clerks place a sticker in the child’s Kids Market @ The Store passport. This allows families to track which foods they’ve tried throughout the program. At the end of the program, they can mail back their passports for WVU-themed prizes.
The Family Nutrition Program secured funding for 100 families in 16 counties to participate, thanks to support from the Walmart Foundation, Save the Children and the Sisters of St. Joseph Health and Wellness Foundation, as well as other funders.
Currently, the program will be limited to the first 100 families to sign up in each of the 16 counties. The remainder will be put on a waiting list and connected with other food access programs. Additional funding would allow Kids Market @ The Store to bring in additional families and potentially expand into other counties.
“It seemed like my 16-year-old enjoyed it just as much as my 6-year-old,” one mother said during a follow-up interview.
Other families said they were glad to get extra food for the summer months when school-based feeding programs aren’t available.
McCartney said by giving kids an opportunity to shop for themselves, they are more likely to eat the vegetables they pick out.
“Groceries are expensive, and parents don’t want to spend money on foods their kids won’t eat. But this program gives kids an opportunity to choose what they eat and helps get them excited about trying new foods, while also removing any financial barriers for parents,” McCartney said.
The program was beneficial for retailers, too. The Outdoor Store in Arnoldsburg doesn’t usually sell fresh produce. But manager Graham Knight said giving away free produce as part of the 2021 Kids Market @ The Store increased business at his store.
“The kids would be going through the produce and the parents would go ahead and get different odds and ends they need in the store,” Knight said last year. “I wasn’t expecting that to happen.”
WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program’s work is supported by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program
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