WIC Overseas offers free supplemental services amid pandemic

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class John R. Wright
  • 86th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs
The Women, Infants and Children Overseas program re-opened its office doors Oct. 1, 2020, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to continue offering free supplemental services to Kaiserslautern Military Community families.

Though services never stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic, program participants can now schedule in-person appointments with the WIC Overseas office.

“We have a few COVID screening questions to make sure it’s safe for them to come in,” said Kristin Scherzer, WIC Overseas regional manager. “The best way for them to get in touch with us is to give us a call and see if they qualify. If they do, we’ll be happy to set them up with an appointment.”

WIC Overseas is a Department of Defense nutrition education and supplemental food program. The program provides multiple benefits such as food vouchers (or drafts), nutrition education and health screenings to help families save money and lead healthier lives.

In order to qualify for enrollment, individuals must be active-duty service members, DoD civilian employees, DoD contractors or dependents of the aforementioned who are stationed overseas. Individuals must also meet criteria based on income and household size.

“The income guidelines for the WIC Overseas program are, in fact, the highest in the nation,” Scherzer said. “They’re very generous and it’s not rank dependent.”

The program specifically aims to support pregnant women up to six weeks after delivery, postpartum women that are formula feeding up to six months after delivery, breastfeeding women up to a year after delivery, and infants up to age 1 and children up to age 5.

“We really encourage folks to give us a call to see if they qualify,” Scherzer said. “It only takes a few minutes, (where) we ask a few basic questions.”

Earnings such as cost-of-living adjustments or housing are not factored into the income criteria, so just because someone may have a higher paying position doesn’t necessarily mean they will not qualify.

One of the program benefits qualifying individuals can receive is drafts, which is similar to vouchers. These vouchers are redeemed at local base commissaries for foods meeting U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition guidelines.

“(Participants) can use them at any of the base commissaries: Baumholder, Vogelweh or Ramstein,” Scherzer said. “We supplement from each of the five main food groups, and depending on the stage of life that the participant is in.”

Other WIC Overseas benefits include nutrition education, breastfeeding support and referrals to other base organizations supporting health and wellness. Health screenings are also a part of the program, aiming to promote women’s health during and after pregnancy, healthier birth weights for babies and reduced anemia rates for children.

“We like to get one prenatal and one postpartum hemoglobin or hematocrit (level) from our moms,” Scherzer said. “Then for the children, starting at age 1, we test once a year to screen for anemia.”

All WIC Overseas counselors are registered nurses, dietitians or other health professionals with a nutrition background.

“Some of us have extra training in women’s health or pediatrics,” Scherzer said. “We get a lot of our nurses certified as lactation counselors, as well. That helps us educate our families better when they come to us with problems or difficulties with breastfeeding.”

Breastfeeding mothers can also take advantage of a hospital-grade breast pump loan service provided by WIC Overseas. The service helps mothers who may not be able to afford breast pumps for the duration of their breastfeeding period.

Starting a family or having another child can be a costly life event that comes with many questions and uncertainties, and the WIC Overseas program can be a helpful resource. Its mission is to promote and support healthy babies, healthy pregnancies and healthy children by providing access to nutritious food and beneficial lifestyle choices.

“I think the most positive feedback we get from our program is when our families tell us how much the nutrition education we provide helps them make even subtle changes in the way their family eats,” Scherzer said. “It might seem like something very minor, but for them it makes all the difference in the world, and for us, that’s extremely rewarding.”

To determine eligibility status and possibly enroll in the WIC Overseas program, call one of the offices to do a short pre-screen over the phone: Ramstein Air Base at DSN 480-4466 or commercial 06371-47-4466, Baumholder Clinic Kaserne at DSN 531-3496 or commercial 0611-143-531-3496 or Kleber Kaserne at DSN 541-5141 or commercial 0611-143-541-5141.