Nutrition assistance programs help to alleviate hunger but are underutilized for a number of reasons, including misconceptions of how the programs work, unfamiliarity with program eligibility, lack of access, and difficulty filling out program applications. This is where YMCAs may be able to fill in the gaps.

Hunger Solutions New York has partnered with the Alliance of NYS YMCAs for years to raise Ys’ awareness of and participation in both the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Both programs meet Ys Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards and provide healthy reimbursable meals to kids and teens in their care. We want to ensure Ys know about the entire suite of child nutrition programs available to connect the youngest children and families with the nutrition assistance they need to thrive. For example, Hunger Solutions New York recently launched the WIC Help NY program to help increase WIC enrollment among eligible people in New York State.

Obesity rates for children enrolled in WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) continue to decline, from 15.9 percent in 2010 to 13.9 percent in 2016. In 2009, the USDA updated WIC food packages to more closely meet recommended national dietary guidelines including the addition of more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and reduced fat levels in milk and infant formula. A Los Angeles County study published this year found that 4 year-olds who had received the revised WIC food package since birth had reduced risk for obesity.

Most of us have heard of WIC, but can you share how the WIC program supports families?

Good nutrition during pregnancy and in the first years of a child’s life is very important. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides healthy food, breastfeeding support, nutrition counseling, and referrals to other services that can help women and young children in need. WIC is for pregnant women, postpartum moms, breastfeeding moms and children up to their 5th birthday. Dads, grandparents, and caregivers, including foster parents, can also apply for children in their care.

Research has found women who use WIC while pregnant have healthier births, reduced infant mortality and better infant feeding practices. It has also shown that children on WIC have diets that are more nutritious, which helps them do better in school. WIC can improve lifetime health for women, their infants, and young children, and many moms don’t even know they are eligible!

We hear there’s a new way to shop with WIC now. Can you help us understand?

It’s true; shopping just got easier with eWIC! WIC benefits are now given electronically on an eWIC card instead of paper checks. Parents and caregivers can use their eWIC card just like a debit card at the WIC-approved store’s register to buy their WIC-approved foods. These foods can also be purchased in more than one shopping trip, and when it works best for them. Participants just need to be sure to use all of their benefits before they expire on the last day of their 30-day benefit cycle.

WIC participants can also download and use the free WIC2Go app on their smartphone. WIC2Go helps participants find WIC-approved stores and WIC Clinics, scan foods at the market to see if they are WIC-approved, check their WIC benefit balance, and view their next appointment.

What would be the next step for Ys who think their members would benefit from WIC services?

In 20 counties across the state, the WIC Help New York program can help. WIC Help Specialists provide one-on-one services to connect potential applicants to the WIC program. Specialists can tell someone if they may be eligible, and help them set up and prepare for their first appointment at a WIC clinic near them. It is free and confidential. Outside of the 20 counties where WIC Help Specialists are located, anyone can call the Growing Up Healthy Hotline at 1-800-522-5006 and ask for help with WIC.

By Misha Marvel, MSW 
Misha is a Child Nutrition Program Specialist at Hunger Solutions New Yor. For more information, contact Misha at