Staying informed can help families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
March 19, 2020

These days, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect all of our daily lives, things are changing very quickly and unpredictably. And at the grocery store, people have been buying up extra food to prepare to stay at home. In certain places shelves have been cleaned out of certain products (rest assured, supply chains are strong and food will be restocked). However, not all of us can afford to stock up on extra groceries. If you have flexibility when you are shopping, here is one great way to help those in need have access to the foods that nourish their family.

This week, an organization called Suit Up Maine shared a tweet about the "WIC" label (WIC stands for Women, Infants and Children, a federal nutrition assistance program) that appears on some foods to raise awareness for the program as grocery store shelves clear out. This tweet was shared all over the internet, including by celebrities like Kerry Washington.

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How You Can Help Right Now

For many of us who are not WIC participants, you may not have even noticed the WIC tags at your grocery store before. But, especially now, it is worth a second look the next time you shop. If you can avoid it, try to not buy items with WIC-approved tags. If there are two brands of peanut butter left, and one is WIC-eligible and one isn't, opt for the one that isn't. For many WIC-eligible families, this is all that can be purchased and, if it is not available, they won't be able to purchase food for their families.

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Additionally, we should all be making an effort to avoid overbuying in general. Many people don't have the financial flexibility to buy in huge bulk, and empty shelves can make these trying times even more challenging for those in need.

WIC participants can only buy WIC-approved items at the store that fall into specific food group categories. It is even restrictive to specific brands, based on rigorous nutrition parameters. To help ease confusion while shopping, many grocers have labeled WIC-approved items with a tag (as seen on the tweet above).

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What Is WIC?

The acronym "WIC" stands for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. This program services pregnant women, breastfeeding women, non-breastfeeding postpartum women, infants and children up to age five. It provides funds for specific nutritious foods that are designed to help meet mothers' and childrens' nutritional needs. In addition to the nutritious food, WIC also has required nutrition education, counseling and screenings to their participants. This helps people get connected to the health, welfare and social services they need. There are 10,000 WIC clinic sites in the US.

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WIC was started in 1972 as an effort to provide assistance to low-income expecting mothers, mothers and children to grow healthier communities. The mission statement of this federally-distributed program clearly describes its goals: To safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care.

Why It's Important

The WIC program has a proven track record of helping families. Since 1988, they have supported longer pregnancies, fewer premature births, lower incidence of low birth weights, fewer infant deaths, and greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care. Not to mention, they have also found major savings in health care costs by using a prevention model. Through the research it has conducted, it has the reputation of being one of the most widely successful Federally-funded nutrition programs in the US. . Through screening and health data, WIC has proven again and again that it works for those it is servicing.

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Bottom Line

The next time you shop, take a second look at what you are adding to your cart. If it has a "WIC" tag, leave it for who it is meant for. We are all in this together, which means looking out for those in need, just as you would hope to be looked out for. This will allow life-changing programs like WIC to continue doing the good in our society that they are known for.

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This article originally appeared on EatingWell.com

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