The National WIC Association (NWA) received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to support a three-year project called Catalyzing Recruitment Efforts in WIC: Disseminating Evidence-Based Resources to Enhance the WIC Participant Experience (CREW). Through this project, we seek to increase participation in WIC by recruiting eligible families and retaining current participants. This includes sharing knowledge, resources, and materials; investing in local agencies; including health equity framework; and rigorously evaluating tools and strategies. As caseloads in WIC continue to decline, we need to understand the causes and provide guidance to solve the issues so all families can fully engage with the program.
Operation Threshold (OT) is a Community Action Agency located in northeast Iowa. OT provides WIC services in Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Chickasaw, and Grundy counties. While the other counties are rural, Black Hawk County is urban and is the location of the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Metro Area, the economic hub for much of the region. In addition, the City of Waterloo is one of the more racially diverse cities in Iowa and is home to the largest percentage of African-American residents in the state.
While examining data from their WIC program, OT’s WIC Director, Amanda Kirchhoff, noted a disparity in WIC participants who were African-American and breastfeed. This raised concern as CDC data has shown that African-American women and infants are at greater risk of morbidity and mortality.
In an attempt to increase participation in the local WIC program and improve breastfeeding rates in women of color, OT applied for, and was awarded, a Catalyzing Retention Efforts in WIC (CREW) grant from the National WIC Association. The purpose of the grant is to develop culturally specific outreach efforts in an attempt to increase WIC participation among pregnant and post-partum African-American women. The project including hiring staff specifically for the project conducting outreach and enrollment activities within the African-American community as well as training WIC staff on equity, diversity, and inclusion.
The CREW project officially began on February 1, 2020. Unfortunately, this was just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the pandemic, OT chose to close its lobbies to protect both participants and staff from possible exposure. Although our lobby is closed, we have been working on redecorating to provide a more inclusive atmosphere. The lobby now features multicultural pastel canvas images. The USDA has provided physical presence waivers and all WIC services are currently provided via telephone. In addition, many, if not all, community activities and events were canceled in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus, limiting options for conducting outreach activities.
OT’s staff was able to find a way to work around the challenges caused by the pandemic. We are providing breastfeeding education and breastfeeding support groups virtually. We are distributing program information and outreach materials via drop-offs at our local pediatrician and obstetric offices. In addition, we are working to expand outreach activities to local businesses and churches.
This work was funded and made possible by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in partnership with the National WIC Association. Views here do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.