'WIC has made my daughter the healthy little girl she is today'

Statistics show 800,000 Chicagoans experience hunger, and one in five is a child. Since 1993, Catholic Charities has been offering WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Food Centers to provide mothers and children with access to nutritious foods. This USDA supplemental nutrition program improves health outcomes for low-income mothers, their babies, and their children up to age 5. Catholic Charities operates 16 WIC food centers located in Chicago, all of which are located in underserved, food desert communities.

“Poverty is the leading cause for hunger,” said Diane Nunley, Associate Vice President of Supplemental Food and Nutrition. “You have to make a connection with clients and educate them about why nutrition is so important.”

Clients become eligible for WIC after they are assessed by a health professional to be “at nutrition risk.” They receive a physical exam and complete a questionnaire about their diet. Clinic visits occur each quarter, and each year, clients are re-assessed. Traditionally, the foods in WIC stores are the same as those distributed in retail stores, but WIC Food Centers offer additional benefits. There is a supervised play area for children while parents shop,  take a cooking class, participate in health education classes, or get a photo ID card all at the same location.

“We aren’t just a place to shop for food. We provide people with tools that help them improve their nutrition and lifestyle,” Diane said.

WIC centers also stimulate development in neighborhoods where businesses have left. In some cases, clients are employed through the centers, giving them valuable work experience while also serving as a support system to their neighbors.

“WIC has helped me enormously,” said Tanya, a WIC employee and participant. “It has been a great learning experience not only as a person but as a professional. It has made my daughter become the healthy little girl she is today.”

Another success story that sticks out to Diane was during a food tasting at one of the centers. A client tried what looked like pizza but was actually eggplant. After learning what it was, she was shocked. “I don’t eat eggplant,” she said. “And I didn’t think I liked it!” The client was then provided with the recipe and ingredients to make the same dish at home for her kids.

“We consider these small success stories, but when it happens over and over again, you know you’re making an impact,” Diane said.