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Statewide WIC Summit Convenes Key Stakeholders

On October 14 and 15, over 300 WIC statewide leaders, advocates and stakeholders convened virtually for the Pennsylvania WIC Stakeholders' Collaborative Summit webinars. Hosted by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and the Pennsylvania Health Funders Collaborative, the webinars highlighted innovative best practice models from across the country that have proven effective during the COVID-19 pandemic and identified strategies to advocate and apply these best practices in the different regions of Pennsylvania.

The WIC Summit was the first of its kind in Pennsylvania and was held at a critical moment. Families are experiencing increased rates of food insecurity because of the pandemic and subsequent economic fallout, which threatens the health of mothers and children in Pennsylvania and across the country who rely on WIC for nutritious food and connection to social, mental, education, and other health programs. State leaders have an opportunity to learn from each other, and the Summit capitalized on this chance by convening top leaders for discussions that transcended state borders. WIC also has the potential to grow as a critical pathway for Pennsylvanians as they seek healthy pregnancies and families. JHF has been working to reinvigorate the WIC Program in Pennsylvania since the beginning of 2019, including publishing a white paper back in May 2019 examining opportunities for improvement.

Summit participants represented public health and WIC leaders from communities and regions across the Commonwealth and other states, as well as nationally recognized experts and federal representatives. Together they examined key challenges and opportunities related to improving WIC services in the middle of a pandemic and EBT transition, discussed existing strategies and programming that address intersecting WIC issues, and identified opportunities to build regional partnerships to fill gaps in WIC services that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The sessions also shared ongoing work to improve PA WIC in the future and emphasized the need for continued and increased collaboration among stakeholders.

Sessions included a comprehensive overview of the WIC program; EBT implementation during COVID-19; Using EBT and WIC Data to Improve WIC Services at the State, Local and Clinic Level; Using Technology and Telehealth to Improve Recruitment and Retention of WIC Participants; and Strategies to Strengthen WIC Stakeholder Collaboration.

Speakers included William R. Cramer, Director, Bureau of Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Pennsylvania Department of Health; Darlena Birch, MBA, RDN, Senior Public Health Nutritionist, National WIC Association; Zachariah Hennessey, Vice President, Neighborhood Health at Public Health Solutions in New York; Melissa Bishop, Vice President of Nutrition Services, Family Health Council of Central PA, Inc.; Linda Kilby, Executive Director, WIC Director, NORTH, Inc.; Filomena Ahlefeld, WIC Program Director, Foundation for Delaware County; Ruth Morgan, Social Science Research Analyst, USDA, Food and Nutrition Services; Mary Blocksidge, State Vendor Manager, Massachusetts Department of Health; Jessica Maneely, Policy Manager, Benefits Data Trust; Laura Stephany, Health Policy Coordinator, Allies for Children; Zoe Neuberger, Policy Analyst at Center for Budget Policy and Priorities; Noora Kanfash, State Public Policy Associate, National WIC Association; Kathleen Hiltwine, Public Health Nutrition Consultant, Bureau of Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Pennsylvania Department of Health; Geraldine Henchy, Director of Nutrition Policy and Early Childhood Programs, FRAC; Roberta Hodsdon, Director of the Special Nutrition Programs for FNS's Mid-Atlantic Region; and Carrie Dinsmore, President, Pennsylvania WIC Association; Director of WIC & Family Planning at Community Health Services, Inc. 

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