Cakes and Candles Help Celebrate Nutrition Milestone

January 5, 2015

It seems like an unlikely pairing – birthday cake and nutrition experts.

Known for promoting healthy eating, Atkinson County Health Department nutritionists painted faces and served slices of birthday cake to celebrate a milestone – the 40th anniversary of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).  The occasion was the perfect opportunity to bring the young, the old, cartoon characters and superheroes together in honor of WIC and Georgia’s legacy of caring for mothers and their children.  

Originally created as a two-year pilot program in 1972 by an amendment to the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, WIC was established during a time of growing public concern about malnutrition among low-income mothers and children.  The nation’s first WIC clinic opened in Pineville, Kentucky in January 1974.  On Feb. 7, just weeks after the federal program was established, the Atkinson County Health Department clinic opened in Pearson.

Atkinson County Board of Health Member Catherine Tanner was among many who attended the celebration.  Tanner is the state’s first WIC clerk and served the program until retiring in 1985.

“I will never forget the morning the WIC program started,” said Tanner.  “It was an exciting time. The program started with one nurse, Marjorie Gibbons, and one clerk. Because we were the first in the state, we weren’t sure what we were getting in to because there was no pattern to follow.”

Nevertheless, Georgia’s first clinic was able to make an impact in the community.  According to Tanner, the program helped several hundred children and pregnant women who otherwise would not have received the necessary nutrition or vital health screenings.

“We saw a number of malnourished children,” remembered Tanner.  “Sometimes the means just weren’t there to buy healthy foods or visit the doctor. It was good that the WIC program was established because it provided the means for participants to receive nutritious foods. It also enabled pregnant mothers and children to be seen by a nurse and get checkups. I’m glad to see that WIC is everywhere now and proud that we were chosen to implement the program here in Georgia.”

Since its inception, the program has protected the health of its participants by providing food, nutrition education (including breastfeeding promotion and support), and referrals to health and other social services. To this day, the program continues its health promotion efforts and has expanded its initial offerings of milk, cheese and baby formula to include other healthy food options.

Approximately 75 families attended the festivity.  And, although Olaf from the movie “Frozen,” Doc Mc Stuffins, Dora, Batman and the Ninja Turtles made special appearances, the party wasn’t complete without nutrition education.

“The celebration was an amazing community event. The kids loved it,” said Donna Smeltzer, county nurse manager, Atkinson County Health Department. “Many people weren’t aware that this was the very first WIC clinic to open in Georgia.  It also gave us an opportunity to inform others about the program and provide vital nutrition education to our community members.”

For more information about WIC, please visit http://dph.georgia.gov/WIC.  

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