Help for military families comes in many forms from Army Community Service to unit family readiness groups, but did you know some families are eligible to receive free food?
Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federal grant program that provides nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care. Eligibility for WIC is based on household income and the number of people living within a household.
“It’s a complete holistic approach within the community for people to get what they need,” said Florence Hickman, Fort Carson WIC program liaison.
Contrary to popular belief, WIC is not only for women and children, it also includes dads, grandparents, caregivers and children under age five. Providing a diversity of nutrient-dense foods helps ensure growing bodies, like a pregnant mother or small child, have exactly what they need to thrive.
WIC-eligible goods include infant formula, baby food, yogurt, milk, cheese, eggs, cereal, bread, whole-grain options, peanut butter, select canned varieties, fresh fruit and vegetables. Dairy alternatives, such as tofu and soy milk, are also an option.
Gone are the days of WIC vouchers and long checkouts at the grocery store thanks to program updates that streamlined food shopping.
“All grocery stores in El Paso County and the commissary take the eWIC card,” said Erin Cunningham, Fort Carson Army Public Health Nursing. “There’s a handy app you can associate with your WIC account to scan items at the store and also track your monthly WIC allowance.”
Hickman and Cunningham work closely together to assist Fort Carson families apply for WIC. Whether it’s educating units throughout the installation or supporting community outreach events, they are here to change attitudes about WIC.
“It’s not a failure just because you’re receiving a benefit, it’s not throwing the white flag up and saying ‘I fail as a parent,’” said Cunningham. “You actually are succeeding with feeding your family and doing exactly what you should be doing as a parent.”
Some families facing food insecurity and stretched budgets resort to diluting nutritious beverages, substituting healthy foods for cheaper alternatives with little to no nutrients, or simply go without some meals.
“If you have this benefit and you qualify for it, you don’t have to make that hard choice, because without it, people are giving children more water than milk,” said Hickman. “Life happens. When you get pregnant, you think you have a certain budget and maybe your baby needs a certain formula, WIC can step in and help with that.”
Nutrition education is also a significant part of WIC and helps caregivers learn quick, easy meals to make for their families rather than relying on fast food or meals lacking nutritious value.
“If you’re part of this program with these amazing benefits, you get to learn better,” said Hickman. “When you learn better, you do better.”
Colorado Springs has a higher cost of living compared to some Army installations and if you were not eligible for WIC at another duty station, you may qualify while living here at the Mountain Post.
“If you feel you wouldn’t qualify, apply and let the WIC office tell you whether you qualify or not,” said Hickman. “If it’s not for you, still keep it in your tool bag so you can share with friends and family. Just like you’d share a good hairdresser, share this information with people that may need it.”
For those on the fence about applying for WIC, Hickman and Cunningham agree to apply anyway and speak with a representative about options.
“Do it and see what resources are available,” said Hickman. “If you qualify, that’s amazing, and if not, maybe you will in six months. Maybe a spouse just came back from deployment - that changes the money dynamic.”
To speak with the Fort Carson WIC liaison, please call Fort Carson Army Public Health at (719) 526-9929.