Summit County WIC program upgrades grocery benefit initiative
October 17, 2016
The last obstacle a needy family wants to face is a feeling of shame when reaching our for help.
The hurdle is a real factor, charity officials will tell you. And it's part of the reason why the county's primary family nutrition education and supplemental food support program, WIC (Women, Infants and Children), recently stepped up its game and switched over to debit-style cards (eWIC) from the prior paper vouchers.
"It can be a pretty cumbersome process," said Whitney Smith, director of Summit's WIC Program through the local Public Health Department. "People see someone in line with WIC checks, and both those behind them and the clerks begin to groan and grunt. Now, nobody even knows you're in the store."
WIC has been providing its variety of nutrition-based services to low-income Summit County families for more than 25 years, and is hopeful the advancement in technology will allow staff to help even more. Presently the program helps an average of 300 participants annually, but believes there are many more out there who qualify and may not be employing this critical initiative because of concerns about what others might think of them.
"If people need food, they need food," said Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC). "There's no judgment there — there shouldn't be judgment there. It's not a handout, it's a resource."
The FIRC runs the county's principal food pantry and has witnessed similar feelings of stigma among those who feel forms of guilt or embarrassment from needing a helping hand. It's for this reason the nonprofit asks fewer questions at its food banks in Silverthorne and Breckenridge.
This same philosophy is seen in the partnership with the Grow to Share program, a High County Conservation Center (HC3) project that offers strapped families locally produced vegetables raised in area greenhouses. Between WIC and FIRC, qualifying participants received more than 300 pounds of fresh veggies this growing season. And often the need for such staples is just the start of getting a family back on its feet.
"If you have food needs," said Drangstveit, "you probably have other needs. As FIRC, we try to make sure families connect to whatever resources they need and WIC is a vital resource for mothers with children."
WIC studies suggest as many as one in two American children has been associated with one of its programs during pregnancy up to his or her first five years of life. But WIC is much more than just the grocery benefits for families on Medicaid, at 185 percent of the area poverty level, or families of four at the annual income cutoff at just under $45,000.
Smith called the national program the "go-to for all things food, and all things breastfeeding." Mothers can receive the services, which includes free breast pumps, throughout the first year of the baby's life if choosing to breastfeed, or, because of the additional cost, the first six months of an infants' life if opting for formula. Children garner benefits through age 5.
"So we really get to have these lasting relationships focused on the health of the whole family," said Smith. "The goal is to teach low-income families to use the best of their resources, and to teach them how to make the best of what they have. We want to give them the healthiest start possible."
WIC is unclear on how many more families might be eligible within the county over and above the yearly count it already assists. But by improving the voucher component with the eWIC initiative, it's hoping the process is made easier and less stressful in order to appeal to the other group of disadvantaged locals, one family at a time.
For more information about Summit County WIC, or to determine if you and your family qualify, visit: http://www.co.summit.co.us/264/Women-Infants-Children-WIC