For local children between the ages of 2 and 4, getting the nutrition that they need just got a lot easier, thanks to a groundbreaking new partnership between a federal health program and a leading provider of children’s services in our area.
As they embark on a new school year, kids who attend the Head Start program at KidStart Children’s Services in Mount Morris will receive their monthly WIC package of healthy food without leaving school, saving families the effort of separate trips to the WIC offices – for the first time in the program’s history.
“We want to meet the participant where they are at, rather than make them travel out of their way or leave school to get those benefits” explains Margaret Betette, Program Coordinator for Livingston-Wyoming WIC, the local agency of the New York State Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program, a program of the Livingston County Department of Health.
“It’s hard for families with limited transportation and time off of work to take their kids out of school to go to an appointment” adds Head Start Coordinator Sara Longhini. “So that leads to school absences, and chances are the kids aren’t getting their three balanced meals on those days. With this new joint effort, the kids are here, getting education. That is an enormous plus for families.”
The partnership is the first of its kind in New York State, and only the third in the nation, behind pioneering programs in Kentucky and Mississippi. It is made possible by a shift at WIC to an electronic benefit system; the monthly food package can now be provided via an EBT card instead of paper checks. In New York, WIC Programs are administered by the state Department of Health.
Participation itself is up. Based on current guidelines, any family that is income eligible for Head Start is also entitled to WIC benefits, yet locally about half did not make use of the WIC Program last year. So far this year, 33 of the first 50 families that enrolled in Head Start also elected to receive WIC benefits.