The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Michele Smith
The Times 

Columbia REA Meets Transportation Needs


DAYTON--Columbia Rural Electric Association is paying for Saturday rides on a Columbia County Transportation coach to Walla Walla, so local citizens living in Columbia County and who have vouchers for the Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, the Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program and benefits with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education can redeem them at the Downtown Farmer’s Market in Walla Walla, according to Brad McMasters, who is the President of the Blue Mountain Station Co-op board.

McMasters said it has been a problem for seniors who receive SMNP vouchers to obtain fresh produce in the spring and summer months.

“Though it’s a great program, the obstacle is that the nearest farmer’s market in the region with farmers enrolled in the WIC/SNAP program is in Walla Walla, and seniors have had difficulty making it to the Saturday market. As a result, most of the distributed vouchers remained unredeemed by those in our county. Inevitably, towards the end of the farmer’s market season, the seniors would be asked to return their vouchers so they could be redistributed within Walla Walla County,” he said.

McMasters said that at the end of the 2016 season, attempts were made by him and by Shane Laib, who is Walla Walla Downtown Farmer’s Market Manager, to get the Blue Mountain Station to accept the vouchers and benefits. They were unsuccessful because state regulations say local farmers must be on site, selling their own produce.

This summer, CCPT Interim General Manager Dwight Robanske began offering two Saturday trips to Walla Walla, in an attempt to maintain the staff’s hours of employment during the slower season, McMasters said.

McMasters said Laib scheduled a meeting with McMasters, Robanske, Public Health Educator Leslie Sweetwater, Orinda Woods at the Columbia County Senior Center, and CCSC Board President Barbara Gibson. They determined that the $7.50 roundtrip fare could be a hardship for some seniors.

Laib then talked to CREA CEO Les Teel about helping supplement the fare costs, and Teel “quickly” volunteered REA to pay all fares for Columbia County residents with SNAP/EBT benefits, or FMNP/SMNP vouchers. Rides will be free until Walla Walla public schools and Walla Walla Community College are both in session, about mid-September, when CCPT ceases Saturday rides.

“It’s important that all residents of Columbia County have access to healthy, and affordable food,” McMasters said.

“Until that time when we can bring those services directly to Columbia County, it’s great that we have organizations that work together so effortlessly to resolve the conflict,” he said.

To schedule a Saturday trip to visit the Downtown Walla Walla Farmer’s Market, contact Columbia County Public Transportation at: (509) 382-1647.


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