By Michael Gay, Manager of Food Fresh in Claxton, Georgia
In Claxton, Georgia, I manage the only grocery store in the county, often serving customers working overtime or two jobs to make ends meet. For these customers, every minute they spend with their children is precious, whether it’s helping them with homework or discussing their day. Residents like this in our county are trying to balance two needs: convenience and healthy eating. In situations like this, programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) helps save customers time while also providing nutritious food options like fresh fruits and vegetables.
The WIC program has been around for some time, but recently the cash value benefit used by participants to buy fruits and vegetables was increased to $35 a month as part of the American Rescue Plan. As I’m helping bag groceries and speaking with customers, I can see the positive impact of this increase. Many are taking advantage of the increase by purchasing pre-cut fruit and vegetables. And like I mentioned above, that is more time they can spend with their family. But even more importantly, it’s healthy. Especially for the children, as habits developed at a young age carry over into adulthood.
I recently joined the National WIC Association and a variety of experts for a Hill Briefing on the topic. There were a lot of great points made and I was honored to be invited to share the view from the frontlines and the people it truly impacts and speak about how the program overall is greatly benefiting our customers at my store Food Fresh.
Eating heathy can be difficult because produce can’t sit in the fridge for weeks at a time like other products. This increase allows our customers to buy smaller portions of fresh fruits and vegetables without losing money when their produce goes bad. An example I spoke about during the hearing is buying smaller apples so you can hand one to a child without having to cut it up. It really is the little things that make a difference on the frontlines for independent, community grocers like me.
Independent grocers play an essential role in WIC and our customers and the community benefit. By making healthier options more accessible, we are not only helping families now but ensuring future generations have healthy eating habits. I see the benefits of this program every day and I encourage our leaders in Washington D.C. to continue exploring ways to expand how we can increase access to programs like WIC.