Volume 5 | April 2023
The Wonders of WIC
Since its beginnings the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC, has provided vital pre- and post-natal services to millions of moms, infants and young children through our state and local partners. The past 4 years refocused attention on just how vital WIC is and shone a light on the people, services, strategies and partnerships that work to serve
WIC families across the Northeast Region. 
The Wonders of WIC is our way of capturing and sharing out your successes, your innovations and your people. In this edition we spotlight another one of the Wonders of WIC…nutrition.
Regional Administrator Column
From the Desk of
Regional Administrator Lizbeth Silbermann
Today I want to talk about ways you can help us improve WIC that will help leverage the momentum of the White House Conference on Hunger and the goal of ending hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity by 2030. WIC can and will play a key role.
Here at the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, we’re working with all our partners across the nation to continue, improve, and expand our ongoing efforts to support child nutrition and break down barriers to good health. Our nutrition assistance programs and resources in partnership with states, program operators, and so many others can help families and communities set kids up to be healthy and thrive.
As part of our ongoing commitment, FNS recently released several new policy proposals designed to strengthen our programs’ focus on child health and modernize the WIC program. You can learn more about them in this issue. Right now, we have a window of opportunity to make meaningful and impactful changes, but we cannot do this without each of you. We’re relying heavily on insights from those with first-hand experience with our programs, listening to feedback from participants, program operators, and partners to inform our actions. We need your voice, your influence, your efforts, and your impact.
Finally, in recognition of this nutrition issue I’d like to give a special call out to all the registered dietitians and nutritionists as they are indispensable providers of food and nutrition services in helping WIC families lead healthy lives.
Interview with Our Deputy Under Secretary
Field Reports is a regionally produced audio series, airing interviews about the federal nutrition programs operating across New England, New York and the US Virgin Islands.

We’re on air with Stacy Dean, the Deputy Under Secretary for USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.

Hear how FNS supports healthy kids and how the WIC program can help address barriers to healthcare, breastfeeding, formula and food.
Stacy then discusses news around school meals and SNAP; hear about USDA’s proposal to give more kids access to free school meals and what’s being done to address reports of SNAP card skimming.
The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health
On September 28, the Biden-Harris Administration convened the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health—the first such meeting in 50 years—centered on the Administration’s goal to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030. 
The Conference focused on five pillars and the Biden-Harris National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health outlines the Administration’s plan to drive transformative change to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases and disparities. The plan was informed by extensive stakeholder input, including listening sessions, partner-led convenings, public comments and personal stories. 
Additional conference resources and information on all sessions, and links to the conference recordings, can be found on the conference website.
USDA released “Leveraging the White House Conference to Promote and Elevate Nutrition Security: The Role of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service” to highlight ways FNS is supporting – and will continue to support – the President’s goal and to leverage the momentum of the Conference. 

“As the President emphasized during the Conference, we cannot do this alone. I am pushing us at USDA and each of you to do more and to do better to help all children in this country thrive. I encourage each of you in your professional positions and in all the other roles you play—grandparent, parent, primary care provider, daughter, son, friend, among others—to lean in. Even if you think it’s a small step—they all add up.” – Secretary Tom Vilsack.
USDA Makes Major Investments in WIC to Improve Maternal and Child Health
USDA awarded nearly $53 million across three major grants funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Combined, these investments will help WIC reach more eligible mothers and young children and improve the service they receive throughout their entire experience with the program, setting them up for healthy outcomes and helping to reduce longstanding disparities in maternal and child health.

Community Innovation and Outreach Cooperative Agreement: FNS awarded $20 million to the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) for innovative outreach to existing and potential WIC participants. FRAC will provide funds to WIC state and local agencies, community organizations, and other nonprofits to use community-level data to test new ways of delivering WIC messaging and conducting outreach. The grant will also expand partnerships with community-based organizations to connect underserved populations with WIC.

Technology for a Better WIC Experience: Communications, Data, and Metrics Grants: FNS awarded more than $23 million to 66 WIC state agencies to improve technology and service delivery in WIC. Projects include leveraging text messaging, mobile phone support, appointment scheduling tools, plain language and limited English proficiency support, and more.

WIC Shopping Experience Improvement Grants: FNS awarded about $10 million in grants to 19 WIC state agencies to improve the shopping experience through modernizing in-store shopping – responding to feedback from WIC participants – and working toward online shopping. Projects include efforts to help participants identify WIC-eligible foods in the grocery store, plan for and test online shopping with WIC benefits, and train grocery store staff to provide better service to WIC participants.

FNS also recently entered into a contract for the development and implementation of a bold, modern and strategic national outreach campaign to increase enrollment and retention in WIC, while reducing disparities in program access and delivery.
Regional State Agency and ITO Awardees
  • CT received a $350,000 Technology for a Better WIC Experience Grant.
  • MA received a $350,000 Technology for a Better WIC Experience Grant.
  • ME received a $750,000 WIC Shopping Experience Improvement Grant.
  • Pleasant Point received a $350,000 Technology for a Better WIC Experience Grant.
  • Pleasant Point received a $634,752 WIC Shopping Experience Improvement Grant.
  • NH received a $350,000 Technology for a Better WIC Experience Grant.
  • NH received a $403,400 WIC Shopping Experience Improvement Grant. 
  • NY received a $350,000 Technology for a Better WIC Experience Grant. 
  • NY received a $569,856 WIC Shopping Experience Improvement Grant. 
  • RI received a $350,000 Technology for a Better WIC Experience Grant.
  • RI received a $299,619 WIC Shopping Experience Improvement Grant.
  • VT received a $350,000 Technology for a Better WIC Experience Grant.
  • VT received a $446,200 WIC Shopping Experience Improvement Grant.
  • USVI received a $350,000 Technology for a Better WIC Experience Grant.
USDA Proposes to Streamline and Modernize WIC and Offer Online Shopping to Participants
USDA is announcing proposed changes to allow online ordering in WIC. This effort will create simpler, more equitable grocery shopping options for families served by WIC.

“We agree with WIC participants and stakeholders – online grocery shopping and ordering is essential for busy Americans,” said Stacy Dean, deputy under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. “FNS is working diligently to remove the regulatory barriers that currently stand in the way of online transactions in WIC. The process will take time, but work is well underway, and we are committed to seeing it through to completion.”

FNS encourages all interested parties to provide feedback on the proposed changes by visiting https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/fr-022323. The comment period is open to May 24, 2023.
USDA Partners to Improve WIC Participant Outcomes by Investing in a
Strong and Diverse WIC Workforce
USDA announced an investment of $750,000 to support the development of the public health workforce within WIC. This project is part of a joint agency initiative between USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture and the Food and Nutrition Service, which is expected to cultivate comprehensive and sustained solutions to increase cultural competency and culturally responsive care in WIC, in turn increasing participation in WIC and improving the health of participants.

Updating the WIC Food Package
USDA is proposing changes to the foods prescribed to participants in WIC to align the food packages with the latest nutrition science and support equitable access to nutritious foods during critical life stages.

The changes will increase the current level of assistance while providing WIC state agencies with more flexibility to tailor the packages to accommodate personal and cultural food preferences and special dietary needs and increase variety and choice for WIC participants, making the program more appealing for current and potential participants.

The public comment period ended on February 21 with about 15,000 comments received.

Find out more and read what folks are
saying here.
Supporting Healthy Kids
A healthy future starts with our kids. That’s why USDA FNS is coordinating across all our programs to strengthen child nutrition and break down barriers to good health. These ongoing efforts support the White House National Strategy to end hunger and increase physical activity by 2030 so fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases.

Partnering is key to improving child nutrition and health – we all have a role to play! Share what you’re doing to support healthy kids by using the hashtag #HealthyKids and tag @USDANutrition and @MyPlate on Twitter. Partners can also join the White House Challenge to End Hunger and Build Healthy Communities.
April Health Campaigns
April is National Minority Health Month, led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. This year's theme, "Better Health Through Better Understanding," focuses on improving health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority and American Indian/Alaska Native communities by providing them with culturally and linguistically competent healthcare services, information, and resources. Learn more here.
April 11-17 is Black Maternal Health Week, founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance​. This year's campaign,“Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy,” captures the ethos and spirit behind collective efforts to amplify the voices, perspectives and lived experiences of Black women and birthing people. Learn more here.
USDA Visits Hispanic Health Council
Alberto González, Senior Advisor for External Engagement for the Food and Nutrition Service met with Chief Program Officer Sofia Segura-Perez and staff at the Hispanic Health Council (HHC), in Hartford, CT, to hear about their work.

HHC supports WIC families through their Breastfeeding Heritage and Pride (BHP) program. BPH Peer Counselors are women from the community who have successfully breastfed and are trained to provide education and hands-on support in clinical, home and community settings to women who are interested in breastfeeding. The Council is a recent recipient of GusNIP funding, allowing it to partner with Wholesome Wave and the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center on a model to implement a produce prescription program and leverage their network of Latina RDs. Learn more about the Hispanic Health Council
Nutrition Security
Dr. Caree Jackson Cotwright
On April 10, Dr. Caree Jackson Cotwright was named the new Director of Nutrition Security and Health Equity to the USDA. Dr. Cotwright will help lead USDA's engagement with stakeholders in addressing nutrition security in the federal nutrition programs.

Learn more about USDA's actions on nutrition security here.
Regional Leadership Announcement
Bonnie Brathwaite
As the complexity of programs have increased the need to focus on new challenges, the Food and Nutrition Service is undergoing a reorganization. The new alignment will allow greater efficiency and increased collaboration on program policy, guidance and issues. The Special Nutrition Division will be splitting into two Divisions: a Child Nutrition Division (CND) and Supplemental Nutrition Division (SND).

The new Supplemental Nutrition Division Director is Bonnie Brathwaite, formerly the Northeast Region SNAP Division Director. Her oversight will include WIC, FMNP, SFMNP and the Food Distribution, Safety and Nutrition Branch.

Bonnie served as the SNAP Division Director since September 2012. She joined the FNS Northeast Regional Office in Boston in May 2008 as the Deputy Director for SNAP. Prior to joining FNS, she was the Director of WIC Operations for 13 years at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Nutrition Month Highlights
Each March across New England, New York and the US Virgin Islands celebrations are held to highlight National Nutrition Month.

Below is a sampling of the events that took place across the region.

(The posts are courtesy of featured social media sites)

Rhode Island
Thundermist Health Center posts about getting the nutrition you need for each life stage.

@USDANutrition tweets recipe ideas for WIC-eligible foods.
Connecticut Department of Public Health posts about WIC connecting families with healthy food and nutrition support.

US Virgin Islands
Virgin Islands Department of Public Health posts tips on eating healthy during pregnancy.

New York
CEO WIC posts link connecting families with local agencies to help support health goals.
Vermont Department of Health tweets about using WIC benefits for frozen fruits and veggies.

New Hampshire
WIC Offices of Belknap, Merrimack, Coos and Grafton Counties post a quick vegetable side dish recipe from MyPlate.
Mass WIC tweets a recipe on using leftover brown rice to make Veggie Fried Rice.
WIC York County posts about the benefits of cooking at home and getting kids and friends involved.
New York WIC Nutrition Month Highlights
North Country Family Health Center posted a series of staff highlights on why they chose a career in nutrition, a favorite recipe, favorite nutrition topic to discuss with WIC families and ways they try to be sustainable.
Tioga Opportunities, Inc WIC Program recognized RDs at local agencies on Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day.
Whitney M. Young Jr. Health Center, Inc., assembled seed packs, small pots, and soil for participants to take home at appointments. Along with growing instructions, each seed pack was accompanied by information about the nutrients in that corresponding fruit or vegetable and what those nutrients do for your body.
(submitted by Corie Nadzan, NY WIC Director)

Many New York State WIC local agencies took time to promote March as National Nutrition Month, focusing on the theme “Fuel for the Future”. Several local agencies compiled WIC-approved recipes and hand-outs related to the theme for this year. Other agencies developed cookbooks, held virtual food demonstrations, contests, posters for waiting areas, shared social media posts, and provided incentives, such as capes, bags, water bottles, lunch boxes, and books to participants. We are proud of our local agencies commitment in promoting these fun activities with their participants. A few highlights of specific events are featured above with more details below:

Whitney M. Young Jr. Health Center, Inc:
  • Created a bulletin board with a garden bed scene in office space with information about nutrients in fruits and vegetables.  
  • Provided handouts about the benefits of at home gardening for the whole family. Handouts also included tips for saving seeds and regrowing produce.
Tioga Opportunities, Inc WIC Program:
  • Provided give aways for participants, from community donors. Goodies included “Future Hero” capes to all in-person child appointments, bags with a water bottle, lunch box, children’s books, health related word searches and coloring books.
  • Weekly Facebook posts featuring “Eating Right for Tomorrow” recipes from myplate.gov and weekly posts from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics National Nutrition Month website.
North Country Family Health Center:
  • Created social media posts, using the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website, with tips focusing on eating right and fueling our body while thinking about environmental sustainability.
  • A weekly challenge encouraging participants to try tips from social media posts and provide their comments.
  • A 2-week contest for staff and participants to try healthy recipes and focus on ways to ‘fuel their body’ via staff and participant recipe challenges using WIC-approved foods.
Maine WIC Highlights
Congratulations to The Opportunity Alliance staff on completing CLC training.
From left to right: Tasha Gerken-Nelson, MS RD Nutrition Coordinator; Lilian Vitale, Special Projects Coordinator; Jessica Ndayishimiye, Multilingual Nutrition Counselor; Dorothee Ingabire, WIC Administrative Support Specialist.
National WIC Association visited farmers markets across the country and put together a video highlight reel. Katie Shannon, Goughan's Berry Farm, in Caribou, ME was featured and spoke on the benefits of WIC FMNP mobile payment technology.
WIC wing at Bangor Public Health & Community Services celebrates National Nutrition Month. The clinic also featured a rainbow walk down the hall leading to a "Welcome to the WIC Jungle" themed anthropometrics
assessment room.
Bangor Public Health & Community Services participates in the Maine latch on with an online event for chest/breastfeeding families.
Goranson Farm is
one of Maine WiC's
year-round CVB redeemers.

Maine's monthly fruit and vegetable benefits can be spent with Maine eWIC certified farmers as well as traditionally at stores.
Belfast Community Co-Op opened to WIC shoppers in February. The store aims to bring locally-sourced, reasonably priced, organic and natural products to all.

"When we began looking at what it meant to truly meet the needs of our community, it became clear that WIC participation was something that we needed to pursue." - Doug Johnson, General Manager
FNS Northeast leadership visited Blackie’s Farm Fresh Produce, one of the first farmstands to work with Maine DHHS to accept WIC eCVB and eFMNP. It also accepts SFMNP. Most recently Blackie’s has been supporting the mobile app innovations of the WIC Shopper app, a new software application for mobile devices that allows WIC users to make benefit purchases via their mobile phone and tablet devices. The visit included a demo of the WIC Shopper app.

(left to right) Ginger Roberts-Scott, Matt Manson, Lizbeth Silbermann and Cheryl Fogerty.
FNS Northeast leadership met with Katherine Lary, WIC Program Director at Western Maine Community Action (WMCA). Lary and team serve three counties and carry the heaviest case load in Maine, slightly over 3,300 beneficiaries. WMCA has hired two Community Health Workers to help participants maximize their usage of benefits, and to ease the learning curve for participants.

(left to right) Ginger Roberts-Scott, Fides Nduwimana, Cheryl Fogerty and Katherine Lary. Henoc Ngoy, Lizbeth Silbermann and
Jamie Cotnoir.
US Virgin Islands WIC Spotlight
Members of the Northeast Region’s senior leadership team participated in the 51st Annual Agriculture and Food Fair of the U.S. Virgin Islands held Feb. 18-20 in St. Croix. Known as Agrifest, the
family-friendly event featured locally produced agricultural products, livestock, handmade arts and
crafts, local food and drinks and a variety of entertainment and informational booths.

Both FNS and USVI WIC had booths at the festival and enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the thousands of fair-goers and amplify the benefits of FNS’ nutrition assistance programs. FNS’ photo booth, “#Agrifest 2023” proved popular with attendees who embraced the opportunity to pose with symbols of a healthy breakfast and healthy eating.

Lorna Concepcion, USVI WIC Director, hosted FNS. The team visited WIC clinics and met local WIC staff, saw the construction of a new clinic that is using FNS disaster infrastructure grants, visited a health center, and toured markets that are WIC vendors to see product availability (noting formula availability) and signage. Ms. Concepcion enjoyed having her photo taken in the FNS photo booth as well.

(left to right) Bonnie Brathwaite, Dr. Janis Valmond, Lorna Concepcion, Cheryl Fogerty,
Christine Ruggieri, Lizbeth Silbermann
Recipe Book
USVI WIC nutritionists created a recipe book featuring WIC foods in response to feedback from participants wishing for such a resource. The book was distributed at WIC's Agrifest booth. Many recipes are featured in taste demonstrations at WIC clinics. Each recipe highlights the nutrition the featured food gives. For example, peanut butter gives you protein to build muscles and iron for healthy blood. Recipes also include tips on using the featured food and preparation methods.
The Magic of WIC
Massachusetts Statewide WIC Conference 2023
(submitted by Rachel Colchamiro, MA WIC Director)

What a joy it was to be back, altogether again in person, for the 2023 Massachusetts Statewide WIC Conference, “The Magic of WIC”. This year’s theme, based on the spirit, energy and hopefulness of the hit movie, Encanto, showcased the special power of the WIC program to make a difference in families’ lives. The conference drew over 450 local program and state office staff, guests and presenters to the DCU Center in Worcester.

We were thrilled to welcome Alberto González, Senior Advisor for External Engagement at FNS, as our keynote speaker to highlight WIC’s role in promoting health and racial equity and to share the WIC modernization initiatives underway at USDA.

Conference attendees were also treated to a great comedy performance to kick off the morning,
followed by a variety of workshops designed for professional development, skill-building, and staff
self-care.  Sessions included topics such as:
•   Strategies for Virtual Nutrition Services
•   Knowing When and How to Yield to Support the Breastfeeding Dyad
•   Mindfulness
•   Customer Service
•   Latin Dance
•   Health at Every SizeTM, weight inclusive care, and body image
•   Breastfeeding Equity

The conference also provided the opportunity to honor staff with Years of Service awards (with one staff member earning her 45 year award!), Excellence awards, and the inaugural Rhonda Dickson Service Award, named for a longtime, dynamic local agency WIC director who passed away in 2021.

Massachusetts WIC is grateful for the FNS regional and headquarters staff that joined us
for our special day!

(left to right) Janie Urbanowicz, Lizbeth Silbermann, Alberto González, Rachel Colchamiro,
Elaine Fitzgerald Lewis, Roseanne Luvisi
Resource Spotlight
USDA Launches New Virtual Nutrition Center of Excellence

“ASCEND will bring together scientists, partner organizations, and communities to develop and deliver science-based solutions that improve the health and well-being of all Americans, particularly in underserved communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The virtual center will connect existing resources, including people and programs, to leverage expertise and increase coordination and cooperation.”

USDA is enhancing its research focus on precision nutrition science to allow us to better understand the needs of underserved communities. This research complements our programmatic efforts to advance food and nutrition security – which means consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe and affordable foods essential to optimal health and well-being.
Seeking Public Comment
Comment on the proposed rule for WIC online shopping.
Learn more here.

Comment on the 2025 Dietary Guidelines.
Learn more here.
Share Your Stories/Resources
If you have a story idea or someone you think should be profiled, let us know. If you have resources to share, we can highlight them in future editions. We will be covering all the many aspects of WIC so send forth your input for consideration.

Content Disclaimer: The resources, views and opinions included and expressed are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position or endorsement of USDA.
Photos and graphics are courtesy of those featured, taken by FNS or stock.

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