In challenging times like the one we are experiencing because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the Women, Infants and Children program proves to be crucially important for the well-being of families.
WIC is a program of San Juan Basin Public Health with services available in Durango, Pagosa Springs, Bayfield and Ignacio. WIC agencies across the state provide eligible families with debit cards to buy preselected healthy foods, nutrition and breastfeeding education, and referrals to other community resources for low-income mothers and children. WIC has been a pillar of healthy food access for low-income families for more than 40 years, and it has been a program offered at SJBPH for over 19 years. During that time, the Colorado WIC program has evolved to include more food choices at the grocery store, telephone and online education options, remotely managed debit cards and the WIC Shopper App. The technological adaptions have allowed WIC to continue operating seamlessly during this time of social distancing, easily enrolling newly eligible mothers as well as families experiencing income reduction related to the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Living in a rural community can be incredibly rewarding, but it is not without costs. Food insecurity, defined as lack of access to enough food to meet one’s basic needs, is just one of the issues faced by some of the people SJBPH serves along with others such as transportation, access to health care and a lack of affordable housing. Not having enough food to eat is a concern for 12% of residents in both Archuleta and La Plata counties. Poverty is the main reason people face the inability to access nutritious food.
With food insecurity as an issue for many families in our region, the COVID-19 outbreak has put more demands on families who may need additional support at this time. With many local residents experiencing job loss, having to care for out-of-school children at home and facing other constraints posed by the pandemic, accessing enough healthy food has become more challenging. The benefits of the WIC program during times like this can mean a lot to a family trying to keep food on the table. WIC data from San Juan Basin Public Health show that the number of individuals and families enrolling in WIC has doubled in the last two months.
WIC focuses on teaching proper nutrition habits early, starting in pregnancy and early childhood, and has been shown to improve nutrition and health for both mothers and children. This focus on childhood nutrition is particularly crucial now, as many families may be faced with a reduction of food supports from school and more difficulty accessing food with shortages in stores, limited shopping hours and limits on public transportation.
Every family deserves healthy, affordable food, and WIC continues to decrease barriers families face in getting that food to their table and proves to be a key support in maintaining the health and well-being for families who may be particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information about the WIC program, visit sjbpublichealth.org/wic. Mothers are eligible to participate in the WIC program if they are pregnant, breastfeeding and/or if they have a child under the age of 5. Fathers, foster parents and other caregivers are encouraged to participate in WIC, too.
Jenny Howell is the WIC program manager at San Juan Basin Public Health.Jenny Howell