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WIC program reaches out to military families

Food vouchers help expectant mothers, young children overseas get proper nutrition

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Denise Williams has a couple of healthy, roly-poly boys in her office at U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka.

The older boy, almost 3, is near the top of his weight chart for toddlers. The younger brother, just 3 months, is starting to fuss. It’s past 11 a.m., and it’s getting close to mealtime.

But the boys must wait a little longer while their mom and dad talk to Williams, the regional manager for the Women, Infants and Children Overseas program for Japan. Williams wants to know from the parents how many servings a day of vegetables, dairy, fruit and protein the older boy eats.

He eats enough fruit, grains and dairy, she surmises. She’s worried he’s only eating one full serving of protein a day and suggests more eggs, beans and tofu. Sneak lettuce into sandwiches, she says. Put more vegetables in the soup and hide the broccoli with a little cheese.

The 15-minute counseling is one of four that the boy’s parents will have this year in return for keeping a close eye on his nutrition and getting free food from the government. As WIC program participants, the family gets vouchers for certain foods to encourage good nutrition for mother and babies, says Williams, who’s been working out of Yokosuka for more than three years.

WIC is a food program run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that targets lower income families who might be at risk of poor nutrition. The program offers vouchers for certain foods — mostly dairy products, fruit juices, eggs, bread and grains, and beans — to help expectant mothers and developing children receive healthful foods, Williams said.

Children up to 5 years old, and mothers who are pregnant or who gave birth within the last six months, qualify for the program, she said. Nationally, the program helps 8 million people a year, according to the USDA’s Web site. The USDA and the Pentagon started the overseas program about five years ago.

The family in Williams’ office last week say they love the program, as much for the counseling as for the money they save.

“I think the WIC program is great,” says the dad, a Kitty Hawk sailor who agreed to let a reporter listen to his family’s counseling session as long as their names weren’t used.

“For those younger soldiers, (the savings) can make a big difference,” he said. “It can really help them out.”

Families like his pick up their drafts — much like checks — during their quarterly visits to the WIC office. The draft has an expiration date and specifies items the family can get from base commissaries and NEXMARTs overseas. Items vary based on family needs, Williams says.

But Williams worries many of those younger sailors don’t come to her office, either because they don’t understand the program or because they’re fearful of the stigma associated with taking something for free.

“I look at WIC as a benefit,” she says after the family leaves her office. “It’s like a special pay. Especially when we’re educating them on how to eat better.”

Williams said she’s seen the number of participants increase over the years. But most of her referrals still come from the Yokosuka hospital staff or through word-of-mouth.

Income does set eligibility for WIC, she said. But in the military, many families who might not qualify in the United States qualify overseas because housing, cost-of-living and post allowances are not counted toward annual income, she said.

In some cases, for example, a Navy chief, an E-7, with two children and a wife who stays at home may qualify, according to Williams.

It’s also hard to estimate the savings for families because each case is different. But if the family has a nursing baby on formula, that alone can add up to $100 a month, she said.

Another difference in the overseas program are the clients themselves. Because many parents come from different cultures, food counseling can become interesting, Williams said.

For instance, in Japan mothers may want to give their babies raw fish or green tea. Williams said she doesn’t discourage this, but she does explain what the USDA recommends or doesn’t recommend.

“What people do, they’re going to do,” she said without much worry. Getting them to the table to talk is the important thing, she said. “For the most part, they’re happy to hear it.”


Making use of WIC benefits

The Women, Infants and Children Overseas program is designed to help military families and other Department of Defense workers get nutritional foods during pregnancy and the first five years of a child’s life. Qualification depends on income and family size; housing allowances, post allowances and cost-of-living allowances don’t count toward annual income limits, though other pay can.

Non-command-sponsored families are eligible for WICO.

Below are federal guidelines for qualification through June 2007:

  • Family of 1, annual income of $22,663
  • Family of 2, annual income of $30,525
  • Family of 3, annual income of $38,388
  • Family of 4, annual income of $46,250
  • Family of 5, annual income of $54,113
  • Family of 6, annual income of $61,975
  • Family of 7, annual income of $69,838
  • Family of 8, annual income of $77,770

To see if your family qualifies, contact the following offices. Some offices may have limited hours. Have the military or civilian worker’s pay stub available when you make the call. For a more complete list of office locations and phone numbers worldwide, go online to www.tricare.mil/wic/location.cfm.

Japan: Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni: 253-4928 Misawa Air Base: 226-5592 Negishi housing: 242-4849 Sasebo Naval Base: 252-8781 Yokosuka Naval Base: 243-9426 Yokota Air Base: 225-9426 Camp Zama: 263-8960

Okinawa: All bases: 645-9310 or 645-9302

South Korea: Camp Casey: 753-6909 Camp Humphreys: 730-3436 Osan Air Base: 784-9426 or 784-3806 Taegu area: 768-9424 Yongsan Garrison: 736-6074

— Teri Weaver

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