Local News

Here to Help: Am I eligible for WIC?

Posted January 21, 2009 6:52 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— In tough economic times, putting food on the table can be difficult, especially if you have several hungry mouths to feed. To get help,  families are turning to the federal WIC program.

"I really need help by the state,” mother Shana Tull said.

First pregnant at age 15, she now has two daughters: a 3-year-old and a newborn. She says she knows single parenthood can be expensive.

"It (WIC) helps with formula, and the baby cereal, and then it gives you eggs and beans and all of that. So when you really don't have the extra money to spend on groceries, it does help you out a lot,” Tull said.

WIC stands for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. The federally funded program targets low-income families.

"I would probably be on the side of a road in a cardboard box (without WIC), honestly. Just 'cause, my rent is $800, then you got car insurance and all the bills and all the things that they (her children) need. Just with the economy, it is just too expensive,” Tull said.

In Wake County, 18,000 people are in the WIC program. The ailing economy has pushed up caseloads 15 percent over last year.

"We have a lot of first-timers ... asking how does this work, what do I need to do? I need help. I just lost my job,” said Margie Caban, a WIC administrative supervisor.

You can have a job, but there are income limits based on family size. You must be pregnant, postpartum or have a child under the age of five. You must also be a North Carolina resident.

An important aspect of WIC is that it is not just about getting money for food, it is about getting education about how to eat right, too. Mothers in the program are required to see a nutritionist.

"A lot of families come in here uninformed. And when they come here, they learn so much through our classes, they learn so much through our nutritionists, through our pamphlets," Caban said.

Whereas the food stamp program allows you to buy anything edible, the WIC program only allows vouchers for specific, healthy foods. Tammy Pitchford, her husband and their three children say they are OK with the limitations.

"I'd say it's made quite a big difference because my kids, of course. I try to feed them healthy with vegetables. But at the same time, it is expensive. WIC is a tremendous help with things like eggs," Pitchford said.

The WIC program offers breast-feeding support, as well as classes on cooking and how to save at the supermarket. There is even a program during the summer that offers vouchers for fresh food at the Farmers Market.

"So it's really a program about keeping kids healthy – and pregnant moms," Caban said.

For more information, contact the North Carolina Nutrition Services Branch, or your county's WIC office, or call 1-800-FOR-BABY.