News

Assistance program aids women and kids

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

Women and children throughout the Enumclaw area - and a few fathers, too - receive regular assistance through the Women, Infants and Children Program.

Those who provide the regular service take pride in helping pregnant women, new mothers and kids younger than 5. But those social service providers face a few battles, like spreading the word of their offerings, battling the misconception that WIC is a welfare program and, in Enumclaw's case, simply letting people know where to find them.

The program suffered a noticeable drop-off late last year when the staff moved into quarters at the former J.J. Smith Elementary School. It wasn't the first time WIC packed up and moved; the program originally was housed at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, then operated out of space at Enumclaw Regional Hospital, prior to shuttling to J.J. Smith.

WIC staffers are in Enumclaw from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every Tuesday. Those interested in the program are encouraged to call 360-825-3146.

The staff at J.J. Smith operates as part of an Auburn-based program and assist, on average, 375 people each month, according to Geri Wheeler, a registered nurse with the WIC program.

“We're pretty steady here,” Wheeler said, with the exception of the dropoff that has occurred each time the program relocates.

A WIC factor reflecting Enumclaw's demographic makeup is that approximately one-third of the regular clients are Hispanic. The WIC staff includes an interpreter to help things run smoothly.

Outsiders might be surprised at the wide range of services the WIC staff provides. Available are everything from health screening, nutrition education and breastfeeding support to information on car seat use and transportation assistance. Those qualifying for WIC assistance receive vouchers for healthy food and coupons for medical services, including dental care.

“Most of the women who come in here have multiple risk factors,” Wheeler said. “Our goal here is to help them make healthier choices.”

Sharen Mark is the nutrition assistant for the local WIC program. She does everything from weighing and measuring infants to teaching young adults how to plan and prepare family-friendly meals.

Bemoaning the presence of a quick-and-easy, junk food society, Mark maintains that “if we can change the parents' eating habits, we can change the child's eating habits.”

She said a common misconception is that WIC serves only the down-and-out.

“Even people living in nice homes are struggling to buy food,” she said. “The difference is that it's hidden.

“The majority (of clients) are decent people who work hard eight hours a day,” Mark said. “Most are the working poor.”

WIC guidelines allow benefits for two-member households with an annual income up to $19,000. A family of four can take home up to $38,000 and qualify.

The acceptance of the WIC program is not unique to Enumclaw. According to program statistics, in this state almost half of all babies, one-third of pregnant women and one-fourth of the children younger than 5 are being helped by the program. There are 240 clinics in Washington, serving 265,000 individuals annually.

WIC is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and operates through the state's Department of Health.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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