A grant of nearly $600,000 will expand Rutgers Health’s outreach efforts to Newark community and reduce disparities in nutrition program

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) received a $597,638 grant to increase awareness of the program and enrollment, especially among the underserved Portuguese and immigrant families in Newark’s Ironbound district.

In Essex County, WIC provides healthy foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding counseling and referrals for 6,014 participants, including 1,594 pregnant and postpartum individuals, 1,424 infants up to 12 months and 2,996 children up to age 5.

“Too many women and children in New Jersey are missing out on the nutrition they need to thrive,” said Susan Stephenson-Martin, director of the WIC program at the medical school. “We are proud to be a part of this critical initiative and to identify new ways of connecting people to WIC. This collaboration will allow us to bring WIC services to the community to mitigate barriers such as transportation and access.”

Supported by the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, the WIC Community Innovation and Outreach Project grant aims to support efforts to develop, implement and evaluate innovative outreach strategies to increase awareness, participation and benefit redemption for women, infants and children as well as reduce disparities in program delivery in Essex County.

“Establishing community collaborations provide an opportunity to not only increase WIC enrollment at the community level, but to focus on increasing WIC awareness and enrollment among underserved Portuguese-speaking families and immigrant families in the Northern part of Newark,” said Stephenson-Martin.

WIC administrators at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School will use the funds to increase enrollment and retention of participants by collaborating with Greater Newark Health Care Coalition to strengthen point-of-service agencies and community-based organizations’ knowledge of WIC and their ability to assist clients with WIC navigation. The funds also will support a survey and education efforts with existing WIC participants and vendors to increase redemption of WIC benefits.

“We are excited to partner with Rutgers NJMS WIC, Programs for Parents and South Ward Promise Neighborhood to increase awareness and education about WIC in our neighborhoods and to ensure that eligible families are able to fully participate in all the services WIC offers,” said Andrea Martinez-Mejia, executive director of the Greater Newark Health Care Coalition.

Reaching more families with WIC will have positive impacts on the community, Stephenson-Martin said.

“WIC has been shown to provide a wide range of benefits, such as longer and safer pregnancies, with fewer premature births and infant deaths, and improvements in areas such as dietary outcomes for infants and children, maternal health and performance at school. In addition to health benefits, WIC participants have shown significant savings in health care costs when compared to non-WIC participants,” she said.

WIC CIAO is administered through a USDA cooperative agreement with private, nonprofit organization Food Research & Action Center, in partnership with the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, the Native American Agriculture Fund and Unidos US, a Latino civil rights organization.   

Learn more about the WIC CIAO program in the city of Newark here or email rutgerswic@njms.rutgers.edu.