SNAP at the Market pilot project sprouts positive results


United Way of the Laurel Highlands

Johnstown resident Brian Lingenfelter likes to buy plum tomatoes, cauliflower and jalapeno peppers at the Downtown Johnstown Farmers Market. 

Thanks to a pilot program making SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps) available to buy fresh produce at the market this year, Lingenfelter was able to fill his pantry with more of the fresh, locally grown produce. 

"When they decided to do the stamps, I was like, this is great," the 56-year-old said. 

SNAP at the Market was a pilot program made possible by the United Way of the Laurel Highlands, the 1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and the City of Johnstown. 

From late August until the market closed for the year in October, participating vendors were able to sell their fresh produce to a broader customer base. In addition to SNAP, the program allows for the use of debit and credit cards. The pilot’s organizers have acquired technology needed to make purchases easy, safe and accountable. 

"I made jalapeno bites. I had two great big containers of that to eat," Lingenfelter said. 


The project resulted in more than $9,700 new dollars being spent on fresh fruits and vegetables. 

"The extra bonus money was more or less an incentive," Lingenfelter said. He utilized the "Fresh Bucks" program organizers used to provide a dollar-for-dollar match for SNAP users. It was sponsored by First Presbyterian Church in Johnstown and Lee Initiatives. It provided a great way for Lingenfelter and others to stock up on produce. 

"I made jalapeno bites. I had two great big containers of that to eat," Lingenfelter said. 

Greater Johnstown Career & Technology Center students have utilized their 3D printing skills to make unique tokens that will help facilitate purchases.

On average, around 30 families a week took part in the program at the market, surpassing expectations. According to statistics gathered from the USDA by Feeding America, hunger is re-emerging as a growing problem. 

More than 34 million people, including 9 million children, in the United States are food insecure. In Pennsylvania, 1,136,400 people are facing hunger -- and of them 347,720 are children. About 1 in 8 children face hunger, according to the organization. 

Karen Struble Myers, president and CEO of the United Way, said families were excited to buy quality food for their families. It also allowed them an opportunity to participate in a community event that they hadn't taken part in before. 

“Growing up on a farm, grower-community partnerships are near to my heart. This initiative helps to build a healthier community by making locally grown food accessible, and it supports our agricultural economy. One of our participants remarked to her friend, ‘This is what normal people do.’ I like to think that we’re creating a sense of belonging and community through fresh food," she said. 

Lingenfelter said he will be back next year. He was impressed with the smooth process. The SNAP "checkout" is operated by Struble Myers and other volunteers each week. They use web-based technology to make sure the transactions are processed correctly. 

Lingenfelter said he is spreading the word. 

"I know one guy, I told him about it and he had a field day going over there and buying stuff," he said. "I wish this program would have been there a long time ago. I'd have been a customer." 

United Way and its partners will be analyzing the results and exploring ways to expand the program in the future. Organizers are seeking more sponsors for the Fresh Bucks matching program. Email Struble Myers at for details.