Article by India Dansby of MHHC
Bronx, NY— On August 26, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) held a virtual ceremony for its 2021 WIC Breastfeeding Award of Excellence recipients, awarding 16 local WIC agencies in the northeast region. Among those recognized was Morris Heights Health Center (MHHC), a not-for-profit federally qualified health center (FQHC), serving more than 57,000 residents annually in some of the most vulnerable communities in the Bronx.
MHHC’s WIC program is one of seven local WIC agencies in NYS to receive the gold level award for its exemplary support of breastfeeding mothers. The WIC program is a 2x recipient of this award, receiving their first recognition in 2016.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture established the award program in 2014 to recognize local WIC agencies that demonstrate model practices in support of breastfeeding activities for women participating in the WIC program. The award is given in three levels of distinction: Gold, Premier and Elite.
To receive the gold award, qualifying agencies are evaluated based on their performance measurements of breastfeeding; the effectiveness of their peer counselor program; and the extent to which the agency or clinic has partnered with other entities to build a supportive breastfeeding environment.
WIC is a federally funded special supplemental nutrition program that provides nutrition education to low income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women; infants, children up to five years of age and caretakers including fathers.
The WIC program at Morris Heights Health Center has been a pillar to families across the Bronx, providing access to healthy and affordable food choices. The program first opened its doors to residents in the Morris Heights community in 1995 at its main location on 85 W. Burnside Avenue. Now more than 20 years later the health center has expanded its program opening four additional sites throughout the Southeast & West areas of the borough.
To date, the program supports 9,000 participants, each site providing benefits for:
• nutritious foods
• participant centered nutrition assessment and counseling
• a peer counseling program
• breastfeeding promotion and support
• access to breast pumps
• facilitated group discussions
• a culinary institute for children ages 4 & 5
• farmers market health bucks, and
• referral to medical and social services
Every year the program hosts annual events for WIC participants that include a breastfeeding celebration, a baby shower, and a health fair.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges to the traditional way of delivering benefits to new and existing WIC participants.
In response to this health crisis the WIC team at MHHC quickly adapted to a new delivery model that consist of providing in-person and remote support for enrollment, recertification, and WIC benefits.
“We are pleased that Morris Heights Health Center’s WIC program is being recognized for this year’s Breastfeeding Award of Excellence,” says Jaimini Raval, WIC Program Director.
She credited the organizations win to her hardworking staff. “While the pandemic created challenges for us, this award is a testimony to the WIC team’s dedication to meeting the ongoing needs of the communities that we serve during these unprecedented times.”
MHHC is a not-for-profit federally qualified health center serving more than 57,000 residents annually in some of the most vulnerable communities in the Bronx by providing a wide range of primary, specialty, dental, mental health, educational and social services at eleven convenient locations. In addition, Morris Heights Health Center maintains school-based health facilities in twenty New York City Public Schools that provide health care for the students.
Banner Image: MHHC WIC Team. Image Credit – MHHC