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WIC program recognized nationally for success during pandemic

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 5:52 PM EDT
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Working and learning virtually hasn’t been everyone’s favorite thing to do in the pandemic, but mothers hoping to breastfeed their child may have been grateful when it came to the WIC program teaching them over the phone.

The WIC program aims to serve low-income women, infants and children by teaching them about nutrition and provide supplemental food. Last year, the pandemic forced them to close their office to the public.

“We are used to having clients come into the facility and receive nutrition education from a nutritionist,” said nutrition program manager Maureen Hubbard. “Now, we’ve had to modify our operations to do all of it remotely.”

Not being able to meet with staff or have their questions answered in person may have been frustrating for some but for others, it was a more convenient way to get help. At the beginning of the pandemic, Brunswick County WIC served about 2,300 clients each month but that number has jumped to nearly 2,900 since then.

“Our clients are really happy with our adjustment through the remote services because we can meet them where they’re at any time of day,” said Hubbard. “We’ve served clients during work breaks, we’ve served clients all different hours of the day.”

While most interactions happen over the phone, WIC wasn’t going to let that keep them from meeting the mothers’ material needs, so the staff pumped up its outreach efforts.

“We’ve been able to modify our services by providing curbside pickup,” said Hubbard. “We provide handouts and resources and internet links. We also provide breast pumps to moms that are breastfeeding. We provide multi-user breast pumps, single-user breast pumps and manual.”

Those efforts led WIC to receive the USDA 2021 Breastfeeding Award of Excellence. As excited as they are about their success, the office is still empty, so WIC is hopeful things change soon.

“We miss our families, we miss our moms. This isn’t going to be forever and we can’t wait to have them back in so that we can really increase that support and have more one-on-one contact with our patients.”

WIC programs have been able to do those meetings over the phone thanks to a federal waiver, but once that ends, remote meetings would likely end with it. However, North Carolina received funding from Tufts University to support WIC programs in providing telehealth, meaning that even after that waiver ends, Brunswick County’s WIC program may still be able to offer those services that allow staff to better serve its clients. The state has not yet announced which counties will receive grants from that funding.

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