Hannah Stahmer smiles when she sees her clients in the vegetable and fruit section at the grocery story. Being able to educate them on nutritional eating habits for them and their children convinces her she chose the right job nine years ago.
“Every day I have the chance to help someone, even if it’s just one person, is a good day,” said the Alachua County nutritionist for the federal nutrition program known as WIC (Women, Infants and Children) with a smile. “And that’s most days for me.”
She often finds herself sitting in her “Finding Nemo” themed office thinking how she not only loves her job but knows her work impacts lives.
“At least I can make a difference with my job in Alachua County,” she said. “I want clients to know I’m there for them no matter their need– finding a physician, receiving food stamps or counseling services.”
Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), WIC is a special nationwide nutrition program for low and middle-class income pregnant and nursing women and their children and is provided by the UF College of Medicine department of obstetrics and gynecology and the North Central Florida WIC Project.
In North Central Florida, WIC serves cover 11 counties.
Since it began in 1974, the WIC program has earned the reputation of being one of the most successful federally funded nutrition programs in the United States by providing vouchers for various foods, such as cereal, oatmeal, milk, juice, cheese and eggs.
WIC client Kreshelle Marquis wouldn’t know what to do without the program’s help, especially when she had her 2-year-old son Kyler and 12-month-old twins, she said.
“We went through milk like crazy,” said the Gainesville mother of five. “WIC covers the basic needs, and the education they provide is vital to the future of parenting and children.”
Since the food package essentially has been the same since the program first began, WIC is currently in the process of adding fruits, vegetables, more whole grains, only low-fat cow’s milk, soy milk and baby foods for infants to the list of available foods.
“The problem in the ’70s was malnutrition, and now its obesity,” said Janet Allen, the director of the North Central Florida WIC Program. According to Stahmer, one of the main reasons obesity is so prominent today is due to people not knowing how to cook anymore.
“They depend on fast food for most of their meals,” she added.
The special thing about WIC is not necessarily how it provides food supplements for its clients but education on how to eat well and take care themselves, Stahmer said.
“Our aim is not to just give out free food vouchers,” she said. “The core of the program is education– to provide education in a non-judgmental way.”
According to the Food and Nutrition Service USDA website, WIC reduces fetal deaths and infant mortality, reduces low birth weight rates, increases the duration of pregnancy, improves growth of nutritionally at-risk infants and children, and those enrolled in WIC are more likely to have a regular source of medical care and have more up-to-date immunizations.