National WIC Association

An Open Letter to Our WIC Family in the Time of COVID

April 5, 2020

From the Rev. Fr. Douglas A. Greenaway, President & CEO, National WIC Association

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This plea is a sobering reminder of our individual and collective mortality. Its pronouncement is intended to shake us from complacency and prompt us to redemptive action. It is also one bookend to the dark days of introspection squeezed between it and the other bookend that shines with unexpected comfort, hope, and promise.

Perhaps no contemporary event has shaken all humankind as significantly or dramatically as the current COVID-19 pandemic. It’s as if we were the good citizens of Troy – under siege, soon to be left in smoldering ruins, deriving consolation from our shared misery. Our common plea, like that of the Trojans, is that the siege be not long and our losses, but few. That was not to be Troy’s fate, and it may not be ours.

The near consistent national response to the unseen enemy in our midst, has been to deny, to dither, and then out of necessity, to demonstrate resolve. Nation after nation has driven their people into quarantine and pulled up the draw bridges. As of April 5, globally there were over 1,100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 62,000 deaths. Tackling this crisis requires determination, transparency, and frank leadership. And yet, as we have discovered, not all leaders are equally gifted.

Three weeks ago, while making chaplaincy rounds at the ICU of a nearby hospital, I encountered a painful reminder of the HIV/AIDS crisis from the 1980s and 1990s. A phlebotomist, called to insert a necessary stent in a man’s arm, refused to enter the patient’s room. A COVID-19 sign hung on the door stipulating near hazmat precautions. “I have a beard,” he protested to the duty nurse, “and the surgical mask will not cover my beard and protect me from the virus.” He walked away.

I know something of fear. I have experienced it in others, and I know it to lurk not far from the surface of my own emotions. If I am honest with myself, I am at one time or another, sometimes even simultaneously, a seeker, a doubter, and a believer. And yet, I know from experience, that when I have allowed myself, I have walked thru the valley of the shadow . . .

How prophetic the voice of the 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when he said in his first inaugural address as the Great Depression had all but swallowed every ounce of hope, “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

The manner in which we care for each other in this pandemic is a witness to our common humanity. We are all fearful. None of us wants to contract a virus that could potentially separate us from those we love or worse find us dying in isolation, unable to feel the touch of family, or friends, or even our caregivers. Grieving under pandemic circumstances evades our traditional rituals, our pathways to physical and emotional intimacy – the gifts of relationships. Those who experience loss in this time of isolation require extra care.

The fortunate among us are empowered to practice social proximity or distancing, intentional, frequent WHO guided hand washing, privileged teleworking, access to food, and the comfort of shelter.

The powerless among us must report daily to work to assure basic access to food and shelter, despite employers who may be less mindful or flagrantly violate the safety and necessities of protection. Worse, they are now trapped unprepared having been furloughed, laid off, or terminated from their means of livelihood.

A host of our neighbors – in just the last two weeks, 10 million workers have filed for unemployment, with projections suggesting millions more applying every week at least through early May – are facing every challenge of being and survival one can possibly imagine. Only the imprudent optimists among us can deny the dark realities that confront us.

For those who work on the front lines in essential services – delivery, groceries, pharmacies, health care, public health, and related fields, including those among our own WIC family – and find themselves ill equipped to self-protect, let alone protect their patients or clients, we raise our voices with our leaders for immediate, responsive action, not empty promises.

Despite this pandemic and the challenges and risks associated with it, you have, as WIC family, once again demonstrated extraordinary commitment to assuring that the vulnerable among us receive WIC’s essential, life sustaining and life changing public health services. We are all aware of how critical WIC is to families in crisis and in need. New families who may have never considered WIC an option, are turning to you for the caring, compassionate response that you offer and the healthy food, nutrition, and health benefits that you provide. For some, these may mean the difference between their family’s survival and disaster.

As you go about your vocation or ministry of service to these, our neighbors, I encourage you to remember that you are no less than a part of humanity’s act of redemption in this broken and pain filled world. You are the bookend that completes the story. You offer our neighbors – especially those who cannot quite see beyond the challenges of existence – comfort, hope, and promise.

Your dedicated staff at the National WIC Association have your backs. We are pursuing every opportunity to facilitate the good works that you do. Bless you for your service, especially in this moment.

May we all be granted the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change, the courage to change the things that we can, and the grace and wisdom to know the difference.