|Anayeli and her six-month-old daughter Yuritzy receive assistance at the WIC site in Albany Park.|
From the time a child is conceived through its early life, nutrition – for the baby and the mother – is critically important. For those struggling with hunger, accessing the food needed to help ensure a child grows up healthy can be a challenge.
But it doesn’t have to be, and that’s where WIC plays a vital role.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is funded by the federal Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which also funds other children’s programs. WIC provides vouchers for healthy food, nutrition education, nutrition counseling and more for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, have had a baby in the past six months, or have a child younger than five years old.
In Illinois, there are more than 269,000 women enrolled in the program.
“There’s no other system in place to provide this community-based nutrition and health support. WIC really is the only walk-in public health system at the street level,” said Margaret Saunders, the WIC/Family Case Management Director for the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County – the largest operator of WIC sites in the state.
To be eligible for the program, families must meet income guidelines which equate to approximately 185 percent of the poverty level.
“Many of our clients don’t have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, because they’re expensive,” said Stefanie Balvanz, a site supervisor and registered dietitian at a CEDA WIC site in Albany Park. “The vouchers parents receive make those products accessible.”
That’s the case for 25-year-old Anayeli, who had a baby six months ago. She started receiving WIC services during the pregnancy.
“The nutritionists taught me about how I should be eating during the pregnancy, and which vegetables I should give my baby,” she said.
She also receives food vouchers, which enable her to purchase fresh produce, which she otherwise would not be able to afford.
“If WIC wasn’t here, it would be hard for me. It’s helped us a lot.”
Fifty-one percent of all children born in the United States receive WIC support at some point in their first few years of life.
“Our goal is to make sure children get the nutrition they need so they’re school-ready,” Margaret said. “And, we want to give parents the tools they need to be confident and healthy when raising those children.”