Shutdown forcing Beaufort County food banks to prepare for loss of WIC benefits

dburley@islandpacket.comOctober 11, 2013 

Beaufort County food banks are stocking supplies to meet a possible influx of low-income mothers whose checks from a federal nutrition program might stop, if the partial government shutdown continues beyond the end of the month.

Workers at area food banks said Friday they are calling frequent donors for supplies and stocking up on milk, fruit, vegetables and baby formula -- especially soy-based blends for infants with special dietary needs.

"If we do have a greater need, especially when it comes for items for children, we reach out to the community," said Julie Delguercio, assistant director at Bluffton Self Help.

Delguercio said her agency serves food to about 2,220 clients a month -- a number that could rise if WIC benefits, which are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, end Oct. 31.

About 3,500 women and children in Beaufort County received WIC benefits in September, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The program provides food and nutritional education for pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers who have given birth within the past six months, and families with children younger than 5.

Because of the shutdown, the program is being funded by DHEC. The department plans to keep the $2.6 million-a-week operation running until the end of the month, a spokesman said Friday.

Steve Curless, who runs Help of Beaufort, said the majority of women and children he assists receive WIC benefits.

"If WIC goes down, I expect an upsurge of people needing assistance, especially single mothers," he said. "I'll talk to my volunteers, and we'll be ready."

Curless said his group has amassed jarred baby food, powdered milk and formula. His operation is a free emergency service, but he said he would allow WIC recipients to visit more than the allotted once a month if the program ended.

The Deep Well Project on Hilton Head, another assistance agency, is also collecting non-food items to prepare. Joan Taylor, a volunteer, said the organization received a large shipment of diapers Friday.

"We should be pretty well stocked up for the end of the month," she said. "We get a lot of WIC customers."

WIC recipients can have an income no higher than 185 percent of the federal poverty level. That means an annual income of $21,257 for one person, $28,694 for a family of two or $36,131 for a family of three, according to DHEC's website.

The person also must have a nutritional need that can be helped by WIC foods and nutrition counseling, have a height and weight measurement, have a blood test for iron level, and live in the state.

WIC facts

WIC, which stands for Women, Infants and Children, is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and payments to recipients could end Oct. 31 in South Carolina if the partial government shutdown does not end by then.

Average number of monthly WIC recipients:

  • Beaufort County: 3,389
  • Jasper County: 2,320

Examples of supplemental foods provided through WIC:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole wheat and whole grain foods
  • Milk, eggs, cereal, cheese, 100 percent juice products
  • Infant cereals, fruit, vegetables and meats
  • Formulas for infants with special dietary needs
Source: S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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