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Mobile WIC Unit aims to reach families in rural communities

Maternal Family Health Services Mobile WIC Unit is parked outside its Towanda Office in Bradford County.
Kat Bolus
Maternal Family Health Services' Mobile WIC Unit is parked outside its Towanda Office in Bradford County.

Maternal Family Health Services leaders found in the more rural areas the organization serves, it's difficult for some clients to travel to their main sites.

To help get families the services they qualify for, the nonprofit is introducing a Mobile WIC Unit.

"Our goal with this is to go to them," said Theodore Deitman, district manager for Maternal Family Health Services (MFHS).

The new vehicle will help reach more low-income families who qualify for WIC benefits and other services in Bradford, Sullivan, Tioga and Wyoming counties. The inside of the box van looks like a doctors office. MFHS employees can do weigh-ins, height measurements and take blood. Nutritional pamphlets hang on the back wall.

WIC has existed since 1974 and is a special supplemental nutrition program. The service aims to improve the health of low-income women, infants and children. WIC is provided to states through federal grants.

To qualify for WIC benefits — which are available at no cost — in Pennsylvania, you must be a resident, a pregnant or postpartum mom or a parent or legal guardian of a child under 5. There’s also income guidelines.

WIC benefits are healthy food, including formula and medically necessary supplements; health screenings and referrals to other services; and breastfeeding supports.

To receive WIC benefits in Pennsylvania, families must show up in person, which in rural areas can be difficult.

Kendise Dunn is a MFHS program assistant based in the Tunkhannock office. She will drive the van.

MFHS serves clients whose cars have broken down, working families with only one car and those who have no transportation at all, said Dunn. Deitman added public transportation is limited in the Northern Tier.

"It can be very difficult for them to just get over that barrier even to get to us," said Dunn.

Ultimately the goal of the mobile WIC unit is to connect families with all types of services that they may qualify for, even beyond WIC and what MFHS can offer, said Deitman.

A few years ago after helping a young pregnant woman sign up for services, Deitman found out she had nowhere to live. He set her up with the housing department in Mansfield. Within a week or two, she had an apartment, he said.

"That's what our service is about," Deitman said. "If we notice something's needed for a client, we go the extra mile."

Maternal Family Health Services serves 17 counties and 90,000 individuals in a variety of programs. In Bradford, Sullivan, Tioga and Wyoming counties, MFHS currently serves around 2,000 clients in the WIC program. Deitman said initially they’re hoping to be able to reach 100 to 200 more people.

The mobile WIC unit will be set up at the Wilkes-Barre Farmers Market on Public Square on Thursday, Sept. 14. Afterward, it will rotate between Elkland, Blossburg, Athens, Wyalusing and Dushore.

To view the mobile unit’s schedule, visit mfhs.org/programs/wic-nutrition/mobile-wic/.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.