By Trisha Young Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published May 06, 2024 at 5:01 PM

Tiffany Qetairi and her youngest daughter, Daynla, stood out in their matching pink dresses and black leather jackets as they strolled the produce section of their favorite Milwaukee grocery store. 

At 3 years old, Daynla spells her name and shyly expresses her mission: finding the snack she asked to come to the store for – blueberries.

Qetairi and her four children are among many families supported by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as the WIC program.

Ealier this year, WIC faced a budget shortfall of $1 billion. But Congress approved a last-minute funding agreement for government programs such as WIC for fiscal year 2024, ensuring food assistance for thousands of Wisconsin families.  

“It can be hard for parents who struggle to afford nutritious food. You see kids come home to nothing to eat,” Qetairi said.

She said the WIC program has helped support the healthy growth of her children and that she hopes to see the program grow to support more people.

The WIC program offers federal funding to states to support low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women as well as infants and children up to age 5 who are identified as being at nutritional risk.

Social progams under attack

The fiscal challenge had organizations like The National WIC Association and local advocates like Sherrie Tussler, CEO of the Hunger Task Force on edge.

“We can’t assume a social safety net will always be in place,” Tussler said.

According to Tussler, 27,000 families may not have received their WIC support in Wisconsin if the program if Congress had not agreed to fund the federal program. 

“We’re in a time where we have to hold our elected officials accountable because we’re seeing these programs under attack,” Tussler said.

Tussler believes the political environment has changed people’s perception of basic social benefits like WIC, which have existed since the 1960s to combat malnutrition in the U.S.

“This has to start with how we educate the community on how important these programs are,” she said.

More than just grocery money

For mothers like Qetairi, nutrition provided by WIC plays an important role in helping her feed her children.

“Parents need that support for raising healthy children,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, closely links proper growth and development to healthy nutrition in children.

WIC covers the costs for infant food and formula as well as a variety of nutritious foods

Qetairi said WIC also provided her with nutritional classes and educational resources for raising all of her children, including one who is now 24 years old.

“People don’t realize how needed the program is and what it includes,” she said.

Advocates urge people to apply

Some Milwaukee advocates are urging eligible individuals to apply for benefits, highlighting the program’s vital role in providing nutrition to vulnerable populations.

Among them is Ann White, WIC program director for Seeds of Health, an advocacy group for urban Milwaukee youths and families. 

“This funding would allow WIC to continue serving all eligible participants, avoid wait lists as well as maintain the current amount of cash value benefits for fruits and vegetables we provide families,” said White.

Tussler, of the Hunger Task Force, also encourages anyone who believes they need assistance to apply.

For many Milwaukee families struggling to put food on the table, WIC is a vital lifeline. Just ask Qetairi. 

“Without the WIC program, I don’t know how some of the children in my home would have made it,” she said. 

How and where to apply

Blanket of Love provides assistance to vulnerable and at-risk pregnant women, particularly African American and Spanish-speaking mothers. More information here.

Alicia’s Place is located at Midtown Center, 4144 N. 56th St., and will assist with filing for FoodShare and WIC programs. The center welcomes English, Spanish, Hmong and Burmese speakers. 

Robles FoodShare Resource Center, 723 W. Historic Mitchell St., also provides FoodShare and WIC assistance and welcomes Spanish speakers. More information here.

The Hunger Task Force now also has a dedicated WIC specialist. Tosha Freeman, the Task Force’s WIC outreach manager, can be reached at (414) 777-0483. More information here.

Visit the Milwaukee Health Department’s website to find various clinics in the Milwaukee area that provide WIC Services.

Apply for WIC benefits at the  Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ website here.

For more information, including eligibility and locating WIC offices nearest you, click here

If you or someone you know needs emergency food, call 2-1-1, or visit the IMPACT 211 website here