Spotlight on Kristie Fawkes, Project Director of the Nutrition Program at WIC

LRRC and Community Partners Spotlight Series

What is your position at WIC?

I have a master's degree in nutrition and health promotion, and am an international board certified lactation consultant. I have worked in WIC clinics for 17 years and currently direct the nutrition program in the Lakewood office.

How and why was WIC founded?

WIC was founded in the 1970’s by the federal government to address the prevalent issues of hunger and nutritional deficiencies. It was, and still is, about good nutrition and nutrition education. Income-eligible children under age five as well as expectant or nursing mothers are provided with supplemental nutrition in the form of check vouchers exchangeable for the variety of foods determined by the Institute of Medicine and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to comprise a nutritious diet.

What can participants expect to find in the local WIC office?

We know that our local office is a familiar place to many women, infants, and children in the community. If it’s also a friendly and inviting place, that’s by design, and it reflects our attitude: we're here because we want to be here, doing what we love every day. We’ve got beautiful, kid-friendly waiting areas and comfortable offices for the certification and counseling process, and we take pride in the designated mother-baby feeding areas, where moms can nurse their little ones in a cozy and private setting. We’re especially excited about our new education rooms - they’re upstairs, quiet, and beautifully decorated with muted colors and comfortable seating that’s just right for the educational classes and discussion groups that meet here.

What's the goal of the WIC program?

The core of the WIC program is nutrition education for our moms and families, and our goal is to improve health outcomes. WIC works; the research shows that we do, in fact, see measurable results. To illustrate, every dollar spent on prenatal WIC results in an average saving of $2.48, ranging from $1.24 to $6.83. Better prenatal care for expectant women, is associated with a reduction in premature births.

What's up-and-coming at WIC?

The last big change we made was back in 2009, when fruits, vegetables, and whole grains were added to the vouchers. Coming up is another big one: by October 1, 2020, we are planning for our voucher system to be set up to run electronically, with participants using electronic cards for transactions instead of the paper checks.

Can you share something that inspires you and drives your wonderful work?

We love the interaction with the families here, the chance to watch the kids grow over the years, and our ability to effect and track growth over time, even in small ways. I remember one particular mom who, although she wasn’t on our program anymore, appeared at the office with a friend who had an appointment. “Looking back,” she told us, “I didn’t want to be bothered with the advice and information. I never really focused on any of it; putting food on our plates was all that drove me in those years. But it sank in somewhere, and now I’ve been incorporating all those nutrition tips into our daily lives.” Stories like this one inspire our efforts. We also enjoy tracking change and improvement, seeing a rise in a child’s hemoglobin levels over time, and hearing feedback about what might have made the difference. Our best tips come from the participants, and we pass them on! We value our relationship with our participants, their input as well as their referrals.

What benefits does WIC offer its participants?

Vouchers are not the only things you can get here at WIC. We know that our clients live diverse and complex lives, and we’re always looking for ways to make it easier for them to get what they need. We’ve partnered with a number of agencies and organizations to connect families with Food Stamp benefits, food banks, vaccinations, health care, and guidance from registered dieticians and lactation consultants. We’re really here for them. I couldn’t put a value on many of these services; private consultation with a lactation expert, for example, runs in the range of $200-300. Here, you’ll get that free. Our check vouchers for the farmers’ markets, available starting mid-June, are an exciting way to support local agriculture and educate children on where their produce comes from. Not everyone can get out to the u-pick farms, though, so we improvised something new last year. In an effort to save time and energy for busy parents, we brought the farmer’s market to WIC! Families were given the opportunity to walk out with their checks and exchange them for their fresh produce right here. It was well-received, and we’re looking forward to bringing that back this summer.

Do you have any advice to share with readers?

As a nutritionist, I’ll give the advice we give parents of the picky eaters that we see here. At around 18 months, children’s tastes often get finicky, and it seems that it’s the little toddler against the world. Sometimes it takes 10 or 15 exposures to a food before it’ll take. Keep trying, and that vegetable will find its way onto the menu request!

What kind of support do participants receive at WIC?

As part of WIC benefits, participants attend educational session on topics like nutrition and breastfeeding. Classes are structured as discussion groups moderated by our professional staff, such that attendees can learn from their peers' experiences. Recently, we had a group of expectant mothers. We were pleased to see that several fathers-to-be also made an appearance, and we pulled them out to form a small fathers’ group to discuss their roles in their growing families. It was really appreciated! Seeing the need for this, we’d like to make this opportunity available for more people in the communities that we serve. It’s really all about the people, and what we can do to help our clients live healthy, happy lives.

Who is Eligible for WIC?

In order to be eligible for WIC, you must have an income below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) or currently be receiving NJFC or SNAP benefits. If you qualify, you can apply for WIC for:

  • Pregnant women
  • Nursing mothers until one year after delivery
  • Non-nursing mothers until 6 months after delivery
  • Infants and children up to age five

WIC income limits are going up as of July 1st. See the chart below for the new eligibility:

Income Table