Barb Hipsman Springer
The red apple glistens from the cart in Kent’s Haymaker Farmers’ Market. A few steps away, another table is piled high with spinach, sprouts, leeks, and dozens of other vegetables, just calling out to be combined into a nutritious meal. But it may as well be miles away for some who are having a hard time making ends meet, let alone get fresh foods on the table.
But with a little help from Kent “sewists,” anyone qualifying for food stamps through the Ohio Direction Card can get essentially, two apples for the price of one. Or spinach, sprouts, leeks, or any other healthy food at the Kent Haymaker Farmers’ Market.
Lonnie Hawks carefully guides materials for another bag through her sewing machine. Photography courtesy of Brad Bolton
volume 13 | 2017 • www.aroundkent.net
Started by volunteers, the Socially Responsible Sweatshop (SRS) of Kent doubles the food credits those in need have to spend, up to $10 a week through “Produce Perks.” And all that Direction Card holders need to do is ask—or be reminded—at the check-in table at the Market where they swipe their benefits card.
But what’s with the “sweatshop” moniker of this group? The SRS of Kent started out as just one wellknown community activist trying to figure out how to help low-income area residents stretch their food budget. Mary Ann Kasper was helping former market manager Kelly Ferry check in clients who wanted to use the state’s program to buy vegetables and fruits at the market. “But what I couldn’t get my head around was that these people really, really could use more than the $7 the state gives them per month,” Kasper said. Women, infants and children participants get only $7 a month to use for fruits and vegetables. That has to be taken in light of the fact that in Kent City Schools, nearly half the students qualify for free or reduced meals, a barometer of poverty nationally. Kasper listened as people approached the market table and figured out that it was hard, not just financially, but emotionally for individuals or families to come to the desk to use their card. “We want everyone to feel just great about buying good food and wanted to help them get more,” Kasper said. At the start, it was just a little hand-sewn bag Kasper or her first volunteer, Jennifer Wang, handed to the family or person to keep their wooden “tokens” in, week-to-week. “Just that little offering and a smile had the clients coming back, knowing they were welcomed,” Kasper said. “We knew right from the start, this is something we can do