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WIC Program and Nutrition Assistant Jaritza Molina speaks with a mother and her young son in the Ludlow office.
Reminder Publishing photo by Sarah Heinonen

LUDLOW — Ludlow families have a new option for support with the reopening of the Women, Infants and Children program office after closing for four years.

WIC is a federal program that provide nutritional education, breastfeeding classes and supplemental food for pregnant and postpartum women, and children to age 5. WIC is administered by local organizations. In the Springfield area, the Valley Opportunity Council oversees the program.

When the coronavirus pandemic led the Valley Opportunity Council to close its Ludlow satellite office, which mainly helped people with WIC applications and services, the organization expected to reopen it once the pandemic-era closures ended, but wiring problems, staffing shortages and flooding due to a burst pipe kept the office from reopening its doors for four years.

As of the beginning of April, however, the office reopened and is ready for business on the second and third Wednesdays of the month, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Prior to the closure, the office was serving about 165 families. Many of those cases were rerouted to the Valley Opportunity Council’s Chicopee and Holyoke offices. COVID-19 led to a temporary surge in the number of people across the region applying for WIC, but those levels have returned to pre-pandemic levels, Senior Nutritionist Andrea Desjardins said. Now, there are about 100 cases being served from the newly reopened office. Knowing the need exists in Ludlow and the surrounding communities, she said they are trying to build the caseload back to its former levels.

Desjardins said there are several misconceptions about WIC. Regarding perhaps the largest misconception, she said, “You don’t have to be super-low income. We do service middle-income families.” WIC has higher income eligibility levels than many other programs, such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or MassHealth. While enrollment in either of those programs, which use 125% of the poverty level as an income ceiling, makes people automatically eligible for WIC, people with an income of 175% of the poverty level are still potentially eligible for the program. More information on income guidelines can be found at mass.gov/wic. The website also has self-screening tools to check eligibility.

There are other benefits of rebuilding the caseload. Gail Domeracki, director of Valley Opportunity Council’s WIC program explained that while both the federal government and Massachusetts provide funding for the program, the amount available is directly linked to the number of people in the area seeking services.

There are other misconceptions, too. The program educates people about eating healthy, fresh foods, rather than ultra-processed, convenient foods. “A lot of people think eating healthy is expensive. That’s a fallacy,” Desjardins said. “It’s time-consuming, but we try to teach tips to cut down on the time.”

WIC is easier to use than ever, as well. Rather than needing to bring paper checks to the store, the program now provides participants with a card and an app, which takes confusion about what products are allowed out of the equation by letting people scan the barcodes on products to verify their eligibility.

The Ludlow office is relatively small, with Nutritionist Lisa McGaffigan and Program and Nutrition Assistant Jaritza Molina being the main staffers people will interact with. However, Desjardins said, breast feeding support and a family support coordinator, who helps with non-food related support like housing and healthcare, can be brought in when needed.

WIC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. To celebrate, the Valley Opportunity Council is hosting festivities on June 14 at Heritage Park in Holyoke. The day will include merry-go-round rides, vegetable plantings, activities and crafts for children, free information and a cooking demonstration.

The Valley Opportunity Council’s WIC office is located at 14 Chestnut Pl., with an entrance behind American Renal Associates — Ludlow Dialysis. More information about the program can be found at valleyopp.com/food-nutrition/wic, or by calling 413-589-1551.

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