Fighting childhood hunger close to home
Hungry babies’ cries are heartbreaking. Even worse, children who are malnourished have no energy to let us know they need help.
Americans may be surprised to know that nearly half of all children born in the United States qualify for financial support through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
WIC provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, healthcare referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk.
In Barnstable County, the proportion of children estimated to be food insecure is slightly higher than in the state overall (12.9 percent vs. 12.1 percent, respectively).
Health Imperatives’ Nourishing Newborns Together project links local residents to essential WIC services, according to Julia E. Kehoe, president and CEO of Health Imperatives. The group will receive a $26,000 grant from Cape Cod Healthcare’s Community Benefits program in 2021, which Kehoe described as a “game changer” for the program
“WIC is one of the most effective nutrition interventions the government runs. With improved nutrition, as a community we’re meeting other important milestones, such as lowering infant mortality rates and helping support the intellectual development of children.“
Every dollar invested in the WIC program generates $1.85 in economic activity in the local community, according to Moody’s, so it’s a great program for the community as well as for the individuals, Kehoe said.
Contacting New Moms
Since Cape Cod Hospital opened its doors to the Nourishing Newborns Together project a few years ago, the percent of infants enrolled in WIC within one week of birth at the hospital increased from 9% to 58%.
Busy new moms used to have to schedule appointments, then travel to an office to sign up for WIC. That was only the beginning of the necessary paperwork. Now, Health Imperatives’ Nourishing Newborns Together staff members meet with mothers at Cape Cod Hospital after they’ve given birth, or by phone since the pandemic.
“Meeting new moms while they are at the hospital was a fantastic change that eliminated a lot of extra steps for parents,” said Elizabeth Torrant, vice president of health intervention and prevention for Health Imperatives.
She said it’s important for parents to know what resources are available before they leave the hospital.
“Our goal is to make sure they are eligible for WIC and get them registered so they can purchase nutritious food on the way home from the hospital, if necessary,” Torrant said. “New parents have lots to figure out, especially with the pandemic. We connect them with nutrition education and other services they may need, such as food stamps, food pantries, breastfeeding support (along with our staff of breastfeeding counselors). Some need help with housing and other basic needs, and we collaborate with other human service agencies and nonprofit groups to assist vulnerable residents in every way possible.”
Nourishing Newborns Together offers support groups, education and skill-building that give new moms confidence and much-needed validation, she said.
“This partnership with Cape Cod Healthcare is so much more about how we can meet the changing needs of the community by bringing services to the patients, and how we prioritize working in partnership with other organizations. I think this is an ideal example of how we can create innovative ways of reaching people who need our help,” said Kehoe.