SIERRA VISTA — It’s been a little over a month since Better Bucks began circulating in Sierra Vista, and these bucks have started to make a difference.

Better Bucks are vouchers sold in booklets of five at $1 each. The public may purchase the voucher booklets for $6. The extra dollar goes toward printing the booklets and other administrative costs.

The bucks pack a significant punch because their aim is to help the homeless and the needy.

The vouchers enable individuals with little or no money to shop at certain businesses that have signed on to accept Better Bucks instead of cash. The businesses are later reimbursed by Better Bucks of Sierra Vista, the nonprofit organization that runs the program.

The vouchers or Better Bucks can only be used to purchase essential items such as food and toiletries. There is also a voucher that can be redeemed at the Nancy J. Brua Animal Care Center for individuals who have a pet, but can’t afford to immunize them, feed them, etc. A one-day bus pass is also included in the booklet, as well as a list of service providers who can help homeless and needy individuals with a variety of issues.

Booze, drugs and cigarettes cannot be purchased with Better Bucks.

These bucks are good for everything from a burger to a book, and anything in between such as milk, bread, cheese and eggs. Toothpaste, water and a toothbrush, even comfort food such as donuts and chocolate are OK, too. Clothing can be purchased at Goodwill with Better Bucks, and anything a beloved pet would need is available as long as the holder of the voucher can show he or she is in need.

The limit is $20 per visit at any business and Better Bucks expire after one year. Additionally, anyone purchasing goods with a Better Buck will not receive change. That way people are not given back cash that could be used to buy drugs or booze, said Sierra Vista Police Cpl. Scott Borgstadt, president of Better Bucks of Sierra Vista.

The businesses that accept better Bucks include Fry’s, Food City, Culver’s, Friends of the Sierra Vista Library, Goodwill of Southern Arizona, Nancy J. Brua Animal Care Center and Vista Transit.

Sierra Vista’s program was inspired by one in Flagstaff created by local police and the Shadows Foundation in 2016. Shadows, a nonprofit, has been working with the Better Bucks board here to help get the effort off the ground.

Since the program kicked off on Oct. 1, 656 Better Bucks booklets have been sold, Borgstadt said. Leading the pack with the most redeemed vouchers is Fry’s, closely followed by Goodwill. At least 16 bus passes also have been cashed in and one person has gone to the Nancy J. Brua Animal Care Center for assistance with their pet.

At a board meeting Wednesday afternoon, Borgstadt and other members of the nonprofit discussed plans on how to spread the word more about Better Bucks.

Borgstadt said Better Bucks banners eventually will be spread across the city’s bus windows. The booklets are for sale at Sierra Vista City Hall, the public library and the police department. Better Bucks board member Joe McDermott said he received a call from St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Sierra Vista, which wanted 100 booklets to include in food boxes for the needy.

On Nov. 18, look for some board members of Better Bucks of Sierra Vista at Fry’s, Walmart, CVS and Target. They’ll be holding signs that read: “Don’t Give Cash — Give Better Bucks.” They’ll also hand out brochures with information about the program.

Sierra Vista Police officers have been handing out the booklets during their shifts to individuals who are homeless or in need, Borgstadt said.

The vouchers include information on community services and organizations that provide assistance to the homeless and the needy. Some of the organizations listed include Lori’s Place, Good Neighbor Alliance, The Salvation Army, Warrior Healing Center, St. Vincent de Paul, Arizona@Work and Goodwill Job Connections.

Borgstadt reported that one officer encountered a family of three at the bus station with all their belongings spread out in front of them. The officer offered them some Better Bucks so they could buy food and other essentials.

Better Bucks board member James Howe said he gave some to an elderly couple he knows so they could purchase groceries.

Borgstadt, who regularly goes out and talks with the homeless, says he has received positive feedback from many individuals who have used the bucks.

The feedback also has been positive from the businesses who accept Better Bucks, he said.

There also has been interest to start similar programs in Bisbee and Douglas.

Better Bucks board member Eva Dickerson said the program has taken off successfully because of the people of Sierra Vista.

“What I think really helps us is our tight-knit, giving community,” Dickerson said.

She lauded Borgstadt for making the homeless aware of the program.

Dickerson and board member Fred Shirley said it might be helpful to determine what people are buying with their Better Bucks. Shirley said that information could be used around the holidays for special giveaways.

“If we know what the majority is needing or wanting we can do small events during the year like a bunch of toilet paper, (or) a bunch of hygiene essentials and we can deliver those with Better Bucks,” Shirley suggested.

At the end of Wednesday’s meeting, Borgstadt thanked the board members for their hard work. Getting the Better Bucks program rolling was challenging because the pandemic hit as plans to start it began brewing.

“This has been a great experience from the beginning,” Borgstadt said. “ ... That we all got together and started working on this and it’s just going to continue to get bigger and better.”

Anyone who wishes to make a donation to Better Bucks of Sierra Vista, may do so at betterbucksofsierravista.org or on Facebook at Better Bucks of Sierra Vista @SVBetterBucks · Charity Organization.