WIC creates a foundation for success for mothers and children throughout La Crosse County.
Dena Iacono works up to 25 hours a week as a server, is studying digital marketing at Western Technical College, and has an adorable four-month-old baby at home.
Along the way, Dena also gets help from WIC (Women, Infants and Children), a federally funded program administered locally by the La Crosse County Health Department. The program helps hundreds of moms like Dena in La Crosse County with basics they and their babies need to be successful.
“The food benefits I get through WIC have really helped,” said Iacono (pictured above with her baby). “It really makes a difference financially, and just getting through the month.”
In addition to providing benefits to buy food, WIC also supports moms with breastfeeding coaching and connections to other programs and resources. Iacono said she appreciated the support she received to help her successfully breastfeed Aurelia, her four-month-old.
“It's really nice to have WIC there to call and talk about help with breastfeeding or even bottle feeding, especially if you’re a first-time mom or don’t have other family members in the area,” she said.
Iacono’s advice to others who may not have interacted with WIC or the county in general before is don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
“I know it can be kind of scary for people but it's a great support and no one should ever feel ashamed about getting help,” she said.
Those words bring a smile to the face of Jennifer Loging, Director of the local WIC program at the La Crosse County Health Department. About 630 women and 1,700 children were enrolled in WIC in La Crosse County in 2022, served by a small but dedicated team at the Health Department.
“The purpose of WIC is to provide nutrition, breastfeeding, and referral services to young families so that children can grow and thrive,” Loging said. “It's a critical time of growth and development.”
Women who are pregnant are eligible to enroll, subject to income guidelines, and Loging encourages people to enroll as soon as they find out they’re pregnant.
“We'd love to support them throughout their pregnancy, starting in their first trimester,” she said.
WIC participants receive a card that works like a debit card, which they can use to buy staple foods that meet nutritional standards to support the health of mom and baby. Loging is a dietitian by trade, but often her clients have needs far beyond access to nutritional food.
“Obviously nutrition is so important, but first you have to be sure people have like a place to live,” Loging said. “So, you're really working with the family on assuring they have basics that they need, like transportation and housing.”
In those instances, Loging and her team provide advice and connections to other resources that they hope can help. Loging’s team of eight includes one Hmong speaker, and 18% of WIC participants in La Crosse County in 2022 identified as Asian (5% identified as Hispanic, and 1% as Black or African-American). WIC was established as a permanent program in 1974 to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5. Since then, numerous studies have shown the program is effective across a range of measures that lay the foundation for healthy families.
As well as helping families, WIC also supports American farmers. The USDA Economic Research
Service estimated in 2015 that farmers received almost $1.3 billion for the sale of commodities used in producing the $4.6 billion in WIC retail food sales. Iacono noted that she can use her WIC benefits at local farmers markets to get fresh produce.
“During the summertime they give you vouchers to go to the farmers’ market to get fresh fruit and vegetables, which is always a fun experience,” she said.
The help Iacono receives from WIC provides a little extra support that makes a real difference for her and baby Aurelia. Once she graduates, she wants to start her own catering company, and judging by how she juggles being a mom, a student, and a worker, it will take a lot to stop her reaching her goals.
Learn more about WIC at lacrossecounty.org/health/health-services/wic.