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Partner spotlight: WIC innovates to safely serve our community during COVID-19 and beyond

Blog contributions by: Diana Flores, WIC Community Engagement Coordinator
and Annette Phinney, Public Health Division Manager

Our Success By 6 Coalition is a collective of strong partnerships in the Greater Austin area serving our community. We have one holistic mission to ensure all kids are happy, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and beyond.  The work of all of our partners feeds into our 4-pillar approach of striving for: high-quality care and education, healthy beginnings, supported families, and safe and stimulating communities. One of these amazing partners with boots on the ground in ATX is The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, popularly known as WIC. You’ve probably heard about the work WIC does, but how much do you really know? Our team did a Q&A session with the local Austin Public Health WIC team to learn more about how they are pivoting services during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Tell us about WIC and which areas of Greater Austin are being served.

WIC is a nutrition program for pregnant, breastfeeding people and families with children younger than five. WIC provides:

  • nutrition education and counseling
  • nutritious foods
  • breastfeeding support
  • referrals to healthcare and social-service providers

Our local WIC agency serves Travis and Bastrop county and we are part of the Austin Public Health department.

What issues did WIC face with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020?

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many challenges to our traditional processes of providing benefits for WIC participants and new applicants. Our WIC agency has adapted to the new reality and we have changed the way we deliver benefits. Before the pandemic, WIC had mostly interacted with participants in-person. Families would go to WIC offices to enroll, to receive and reload WIC cards with healthy foods, and for nutrition or breastfeeding counseling.

In March the pandemic made in-person appointments unsafe for both staff and clients. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided us with waivers that allowed us to serve clients in several ways. Our WIC agency quickly implemented remote services such as phone appointments, virtual counseling, online cooking classes, a shopping and delivery program, mobile services at grocery stores, WIC drop boxes, video tutorials, and more.

Communication with our participants was a big challenge at first. To address this, we promoted our Facebook group “ATX Family Care”, and we now have over 6,600 participants and a highly engaged community. We’re now able to communicate all updates and resources for families via this group. We also made improvements to our website by adding tutorials on how to use our drop boxes, how to take classes online, and including interactive maps.

“We know there are increased needs during this difficult time, and we are committed to our continued community service.” – WIC team

In spite of COVID-19, you problem-solved and innovated. How did you do it?

We had to quickly adjust and change our processes. We innovated and installed drop boxes outside of all our WIC clinics. The drop boxes allow participants to drop off their cards to reload their WIC benefits. We then send the cards back to them via mail. We also created our Shopping and Delivery program, a first of its kind in Texas. With this program we are able to shop and deliver WIC foods to families who have a hardship with transportation, a high risk family member in their household, exclusively breastfeeding moms, and others who are unable to get out. For more information about our shopping and delivery program please email WICdelivery@austintexas.gov.

Additionally, we adopted technology that allowed our in-office staff to receive calls from their laptops remotely and to communicate with clients via two-way texting. We launched services with our WIC mobile unit that go to parks and groceries stores to bring services to participants.  We began providing virtual breastfeeding consultations from our Mom’s Place Lactation Center, and facilitated breast pump curbside pick ups and returns. We pivoted our nutrition consultations by our nutritionists to be fully virtual. Our agency went paperless for all incoming and outcoming referrals, and we now use ConnectATX to send and receive any referrals to other programs in our area.

We are working on future features to make access even more seamless and safe for our participants, such as a “live chat” feature at our call center — coming soon!

Here are the top WIC resources for information, access, and participation in WIC programs:

  • The WIC website: Provides all updated information, clinic locations, clinic individual emails, videos, helpful resources, and more.
  • Application for clients: After someone submits an application our staff contacts them within 48 hours to explain further steps and coordinate delivery of services.
  • “ATX Family Care” Facebook group: Provides all updates and resources available for our community.
  • WIC call line for clients: (512) 972-4942
  • WIC general email: WIChelp@austintexas.gov

If you are a Success By 6 partner, or anyone who wants to share or find family resources in the community, please join the “ATX Family Care” group on Facebook. If you have clients or community members in need of any of the above listed services or resources, reach out via one of the listed channels to get in contact with the WIC staff.

Thank you to our local WIC staff for your continued community service and support. We are grateful for your work always, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic!

   

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