County health officials want more people to take advantage of a federally financed nutrition program for mothers and children.
The Women, Infants and Children program is operated by the Pasco County Health Department and financed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It provides pregnant women, new mothers, infants and children ages 5 and younger with nutrition education, access to medical care and food supplements.
Officials want to increase WIC enrollment from 8,500 to 10,000 clients by September, said Clara Law-head, WIC director for Pasco County.
"Historically, Florida has way underserved its potential caseload," she said. "We're going to rise to the challenge."
The push for more clients stems from a recent increase in funding, Lawhead said.
"Florida has been identified as one of the target states based on the increase in new residents. Because of this population increase, (the USDA) has earmarked WIC funds for those growth states," which also include Texas and California, she said.
Food supplements are purchased with WIC checks. Eligibility is based on income and medical need. Walk-in clients might be evaluated the same day they come in. "In WIC, we get them in real quick," Lawhead said.
Several obstacles have prevented the program from reaching its potential, she said.
"Barriers to the WIC program . . . include lack of public transportation, time delays in making appointments and lack of awareness," she said, adding that she hopes the increase in funds will help solve some of these problems.
"The biggest barrier is the lack of understanding," she said. "I suspect that many people think of us as a welfare program, which is not the case. . . . We are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that WIC clients get necessary medical help somewhere."
WIC has six offices in Pasco County. Their locations, phone numbers and times of operation:
Dade City, 602 S 17th St., (904) 521-1453, weekdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hudson, 11511 Denton Ave., (813) 863-8034, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 8:15 to 11:45 a.m. and 1 to 3:45 p.m.
Land O'Lakes, 9930 Land O'Lakes Blvd., (813) 996-3703, Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
New Port Richey, 10841 Little Road, (813) 862-0782, weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and 610 Forest Ave., (813) 849-0237, Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Zephyrhills, 39048 Alston Ave., (813) 788-6274, Tuesday-Friday, 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.