Originally posted 9/9/18
Summer has been so exciting! I feel so lucky that I was able to choose so many experiences to immerse myself in this summer--all of them related to my favorite topic: nutrition!
Up today: What I Did This Summer: WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program Volunteer
When thinking about what I wanted to do this summer, and more specifically, what I wanted to get out of my summer, I started thinking about volunteering with an organization so that I could learn more about my future profession while serving others. Many organizations rely on volunteers to best serve their clients, and volunteers are able to use their skills to give back to their community. Everyone wins! Not only is volunteering a great way to spend your time and learn new skills, it’s a great way to meet and connect with possible future friends, coworkers, bosses. When looking at a resume, volunteer experience related to your desired career can be a fantastic addition.
With all of that in mind, I decided to volunteer with Hennepin County WIC, in Minneapolis. They were looking for summer volunteers to spend 3-10 hours per week working with clients to set them up with Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) vouchers. The application process was simple and the human resources person who helped me manage my paperwork (emergency contact information, background check, getting my ID badge, etc) was super helpful.
What is WIC?
WIC stands for "Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children". The federal WIC program provides grant money for states to support low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding mothers and their children up to age 5. They provide lactation and nutritional support to moms, as well as support to young children to help them grow up healthy and strong. Part of WIC includes a grant for the Farmer's Market Nutrition Program, designed to give WIC and WIC-eligible families access to fresh, affordable produce grown locally and sold at farmer's markets.
What did I do?
I signed up to volunteer from 12-4pm on Tuesdays. I would arrive, head up to the WIC offices, and get my station set up with my assigned computer, as well as grabbing a notepad of blank FMNP vouchers. After logging in, I’d send a message to my coworkers, who included community health workers, lactation consultants, and other professionals, that I had arrived and was ready to accept any English-speaking clients who needed FMNP vouchers. The community health workers who worked in my offices would see the clients and their children first, then send them to me, usually their last “step” before leaving.
I would issue the vouchers to the client. After that, I would walk the clients through how and where to use the vouchers, including the limitations on what they could purchase. The FMNP vouchers are specific to regional produce and do not allow clients to purchase imported produce, like bananas or mangos, nor do they allow items like baked goods, jams, or cheeses. The clients could ask me questions about the process, and they also received a booklet with additional information, such as the locations of authorized markets around the twin cities area. If my client had kids with them, I had a sheet of fruit and vegetable themed stickers that I would give to the children. When we were finished with the appointment, I would walk my client to the elevators and wish them a good rest of the day.
In a typical afternoon, a FMNP appointment with me would take about 5 minutes, and I saw anywhere from 8-15 clients in an afternoon. If I was proficient in another language, particularly Spanish or Somali, I probably would have seen more clients. Sometimes the office was busy, but I only saw a few clients because of the language difference, and other times it would be a quiet day in the office but most of the clients would be English speaking and I would see them. Every Tuesday was a little bit different.
I had a decent amount of down time, which I used to work on wedding planning details, homework for the summer class I was taking, or just goofing off on my phone. My coworkers were super friendly, and I had some pretty good discussions with them, and with the security guard who did rounds on our floor in the later afternoon. My desk was in a fairly central location, and it was interesting to hear bits and pieces of different clients’ stories.
What did I learn?
I've never worked in a community nutrition setting like this one before, and I learned a lot through listening to my coworkers talk about clients, WIC eligibility, and more. I really enjoyed interacting with my clients. I also learned more about how our WIC office operated, how clients are seen and how often, and more technical details like that. When I was in training, I observed a couple of follow-up appointments and I learned about different criteria for WIC clients that determines the amount and type of food they’re allowed to purchase on the vouchers. For example, a woman who is breastfeeding receives more food for herself than a woman who is formula feeding, because of the nutrient requirements recommended for lactation.
I learned a bit about working with clients who weren’t interested in working with me. For many clients, especially the ones with kids, their appointment with me was their last stop before leaving. I did my best to give my clients the information they needed without wasting their time, but some of them were very eager to get on their way. That was frustrating at times, but it was all part of the job.
Stay tuned: a new episode of "What I Did This Summer" is coming soon to a blog near you.