A local health agency will soon begin extending the hours of its nutrition program for needy kids and pregnant women due to a recent increase in demand.
North Hudson Community Action Corporation’s WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program will remain accessible during its regular hours, which are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its main site, 5301 Broadway in West New York, and at its Union City location, 714 31st St. The West New York location also offers Tuesday hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. And starting Feb. 3, the Union City location will extend its Thursday hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
WIC offers nutrition guidance and breastfeeding support, as well as help purchasing healthy foods, to low-income pregnant women and mothers of children under 5 for the benefit of the children, at no cost.
The program benefits begin before a child is even born. Parents who enroll their children in the program must meet certain criteria, including specified income levels.
The extended hours, which are expected to remain in effect until Sept. 30, are needed to service all of the new people seeking WIC benefits, according to Rosemary Lavagnino, the agency’s director.
Economy causes influx
She said the agency’s WIC program usually services between 8,000 and 10,000 enrollees per month; however, now the agency is seeing up to 11,000 clients per month.
“We have seen an influx of additional people, and that is the reason why we have decided to offer … evening hours,” said Lavagnino.
She said the current economic situation is contributing to the increased demand.
“Now, you see middle-income people not having any disposable income.” – Rosemary Lavagnino
“The fact that the economy has tanked just means that you are going to see people who haven’t needed it before,” she said, “and people who are coming in who have been struggling but never really had to come, now have to come. For someone who is low-income, any increase to any basic cost really hurts them because there’s no disposable income. Now, you see middle-income people not having any disposable income.”
The increase was obvious last May, she said, when the agency was enrolling about 500 more clients than usual. Lavagnino said she expects the current rate to increase by 200 enrollees per month.
The agency receives about $1.2 million a year from the state to run its WIC program. To cover the cost of the extended hours, the state has granted additional funds.
“No one wants to see a starving child on the street, so you will always see adequate funding for our program,” said Lavagnino. “Thank God for that.”
Flor Onorato, the director of the WIC program, said that if cuts were made to the program, the result would be more healthcare expenses for the children later on in life.
Lavagnino added that the additional funding is coming at a time when the state is making cuts to other programs.
Buying the right foods
The WIC program is meant to provide low-income families with the opportunity to give their children proper nutrition for healthy growth, said Lavagnino.
“It has been proven on a federal level that children of low-income [families] don’t always receive the best nutrition,” she said.
The program’s chief dietician, Karen Lazarowitz, said that WIC also provides budget shopping tutorials and even goes with clients to the supermarket for additional guidance on what to buy and which produce is in season when.
The local WIC program, she said, also has one of the highest breastfeeding rates in the state.
“We are strong supporters of the breastfeeding component,” said Lazarowitz. She added that breastfeeding is an important start to good nutrition.
Onorato said that WIC started to combat low birth weights and premature births.
One mother with premature twins, Bertha Madison, said her babies spent the first two months of their lives in a neonatal intensive care unit and that she came to WIC to get more guidance on how and what to feed the babies in such a delicate situation. She said the program helped her find and purchase the right formula for her twins.
Another mother, Paola Mendoza, enrolled in the program about a year ago, when the economy started to get worse, she said. When her income dropped, she was concerned about being able to buy healthy foods to help her daughter Sheila grow strong bones.
For more information, call the West New York headquarters at (201) 866-4700 or the Union City location at (201) 863-4123.
NHCAC also has a roving van that offers health screenings around the county, and other services for the needy in Hudson County. For more information, call (201) 866-9320.