Back when I was a new mom and on unpaid maternity leave from my job, I was able to qualify for WIC, the health-focused government program that supports mothers, infants, and young children. The program offers grocery store vouchers for free grains, eggs, cereal, milk, juice, and baby formula.
At the time, they also provided a small farmer’s market credit for fresh fruits and vegetables. As a single mom who had exhausted most of my paid sick leave and vacation pay during a hard pregnancy, I was extremely grateful for the help that I received. That being said, getting WIC in the first place was no easy feat. In fact, I think the only thing tougher than applying for WIC is birthing the baby that qualifies you for the benefits in the first place!
My experience with WIC is why I wasn’t too impressed with Gwyneth Paltrow’s SNAP challenge. The purpose of the challenge was to highlight the difficulty of feeding herself on $29 for a week. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to last the entire 7 days because she needed to eat chicken and fresh vegetables.
While she totally gets points for admitting that she couldn’t go a week without chicken, the rest of the challenge was kind of a bust. Based on the cocktail party-themed groceries that she purchased, including cilantro and a ton of limes, I’d say it was doomed from the beginning. Where were the potatoes, the pasta, and spaghetti sauce? Instead of showing what a real person would buy on a limited budget, Gwyneth showed us what a rich person would spend $29 on.
See, that’s the problem with the SNAP challenge. It’s way too subjective. When I received SNAP (during that same maternity leave), I used coupons, shopped on sale, and stretched every single dollar of my benefit. I was trying to make it work, I had to make it work, so it did. The social programs in our country definitely leave a lot to be desired, but it might be more helpful to focus on actual instances of real flaws in the system rather than debating the contents in Gwyneth Paltrow’s shopping cart.
I’d like to propose a real challenge, one that doesn’t leave as much room for personal nuances and preferences. If you want to impress me, forget about SNAP. I want to see a celebrity do a WIC challenge! Since the vouchers that WIC provides are based on family size rather than income, anyone participating in the challenge would get a much better picture of what it means to actual be a recipient of the services.
Here’s how the challenge would work:
First, travel with a 5-day old baby on a bus to your first appointment. In order to receive benefits, the people in the WIC office need to see your baby. It makes sense because there’s a nurse who checks their blood and weight and helps make sure they’re healthy. Still, after you’ve just had a baby, traveling on public transportation and sitting in a room full of germy people is not fun. Trust me.
Next, if you have a job, make sure your Human Resources manager is around and able to fax documents at a moment’s notice. There’s a lot of paperwork to fill out in order to receive your WIC benefits. You have to show your last 4 check stubs, a doctor’s note, and give them an arm and a leg. If a celebrity is able to get past this place in the challenge, they’d get major props from me. I also wouldn’t judge them if they chose to quit at this point.
After you’ve been in the WIC office for 5 hours, you’re ready to use your vouchers! Call up a friend to take you to the market to redeem them. Make sure you’ve nursed and changed the baby and said your prayers.
The next part of the challenge is a doozy.
Once you’re at the grocery store, look at your vouchers very closely because each one lists very specific items that you can get. One voucher might show that you can get 1 dozen eggs, 1 can of juice, and 3 gallons of milk. Your second voucher might have a can of tuna, a bag of beans, and another gallon of milk. A third voucher could list a box of cereal, a pound of cheese, and, you guessed it, a gallon of milk.
Figuring out the WIC voucher code is just about impossible to do on your own, so celebrities should feel free to bring in reinforcements to help them read and gather. Plan to be in the market for at least an hour.
Plan to be in the market for at least an hour.
When all of the groceries are gathered, it’s time to get in line. Even if the store is
empty when you first walk in, rest assured that there will be a huge line of people behind you anytime you use your WIC vouchers. Be prepared for some customers to groan in frustration when they see you pull out the envelope, and go ahead and take off any extra layers you’re wearing because it gets really hot when people are breathing fire down your neck.
Oh, and it’ll help you when the cashier tells you that you got the wrong juice, so you need to run back to the drink aisle to get one that’s WIC approved.
Once you check out and you’re out of the store, congratulations! You’ve successfully completed the WIC Challenge in just 8 short hours!
Do you see why a WIC challenge is more impressive than a SNAP challenge? You can’t choose to get organic milk (although you could substitute the milk for soy or trade it for cheese or tofu), or specialty cereal. There’s no such thing as being a picky eater when you use WIC. When you’re concerned about being a healthy mom and having a healthy baby, you graciously take what WIC offers and you make it work.
I think Gwyneth could have made a much bigger impact if she had shared her spotlight with some of the families who receive SNAP benefits. Now that’s a challenge. Make people see what folks are really eating, or not. Force society to face the truth behind what cuts in the SNAP budget means to real people. Let’s stop playing pretend with poverty and do some real work to make change. THAT would impress me.
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This post was written by Brandi Riley exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC.