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USDA head tours new WIC office in Fairmont

Funding, transportation issues for clients and ways Monongalia County Health Department’s WIC program staff members have conducted outreach in order to connect with eligible participants were some of the topics discussed on Thursday morning when an administrator from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) visited Marion County’s WIC office.

Cindy Long, administrator of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, toured the newly renovated WIC office in Fairmont along with Dr. Patty Bennett, administrator of the USDA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office (MARO), and Heidi Staats, the state director of the federal nutrition program Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

“With respect to the WIC program, this is a really important moment, as you know the federal budget is being developed for next year,” Long said. “WIC really needs to be supported in that process going forward. This is a program with demonstrated research of being effective.”

Cami Haught, program manager for MCHD WIC, led the tour of the WIC office.

Also on hand were state Sen. Mike Caputo, Fairmont council member Rebecca Moran and Wendy Madden, regional outreach representative for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.

Long noted that WIC has a long history of bipartisan support from Congress, “so that every eligible person who walks through the door can be supported.”

Eligible WIC clients include pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding mothers as well as children from birth up to their fifth birthday who qualify for benefits. They receive nutrition education and food vouchers as well as breastfeeding support.

Monongalia County Health Department oversees WIC offices in six counties — Monongalia, Preston, Marion, Harrison, Doddridge and Taylor.

“We’re at a time when we’ve actually seen participation increasing,” Long said. “More eligible moms and babies and kids are seeking services. I heard this morning that here in West Virginia, participation has grown 11%. Congress needs to provide additional funding through the budget process.”

During the tour, Haught showed Long and other guests a clothing closet that was recently added when a local agency was going out of business and had items to give away.

Long was impressed by outreach efforts that include attending fairs, festivals and other events in order to connect with potential clients who might have transportation issues that make getting to the Fairmont office difficult.

She also learned about MCHD WIC’s new collaboration with WVU Medicine Children’s in which WIC staff members spend time on the birthing floor to meet new moms and sign them up for WIC benefits right on the spot.

“You could tell they were really interested in what we had to say and that they were really listening to us,” Haught said following the visit.

The Fairmont WIC office experienced flooding about 2 1/2 years ago, so the floors have been replaced and the walls freshly painted, in addition to some structural upgrades. Fairmont State University art students also created and painted a mural on the back of the building this past summer.

“Everybody can agree that it’s important to support moms and babies on a path toward healthy outcomes,” Long said. “We’re just trying to highlight the importance of the program and highlighting the level of need that is there.”