Tough economic times have affected the lives of nearly everyone, and it shows in the number of families receiving help from local health departments.
The number of Missouri women, infants and children receiving information and food assistance through the Womens, Infants, Childrens (WIC) program grew nearly 10 percent in the last year.
Oregon County Health Department WIC Coordinator Shelia Risner said Oregon County did not see such a rise in their number of WIC participants.
"We may have increased a little but not as much as 10 percent," she said.
More than 148,000 Missourians currently participate in the program every month. This is up from an average of 135,000 participants last year.
"We average about 600 WIC participants a month, but you have to remember we serve all of Oregon County and Mammoth Spring also," Risner said. She added the reason the Arkansas town was added to the Missouri WIC program is because Mammoth Spring has no grocery store and the nearest town to purchase WIC products would be Salem which is some 20 miles away.
"The WIC program provides nutrition services to improve the health of prenatal women, new mothers, infants and children up to 5-years-old who meet income and residency guidelines," she said.
In Missouri 43 percent of mothers who gave birth in 2008 received WIC services to maintain good health during pregnancy and improve the health of their babies. More than half of all infants born in Missouri receive WIC services during the first year of their life.
"We have a very good WIC participation in Oregon County. There are very few people in the county who do not qualify for WIC," Risner said.
WIC services in Missouri are coordinated by 118 local providers, including county and city health departments.
"Clinics providing WIC services are offered at 250 different locations across the state including Thayer and Alton. Some of the services include nutritional education, counseling, screening and risk assessment, breastfeeding promotion and support as well as referrals to health care providers and social service agencies and food assistance," she said.
Risner said for a local resident to qualify for the WIC program they must:
* Visit a local WIC clinic to have their nutritional health status assessed by a health professional. Nutrition assessments are conducted at the WIC clinics in Thayer and Alton.
* Provide proof of identity and residence in Missouri or Mammoth Spring.
* Meet certain income requirements. A family of four can earn up to $3,269 a month to qualify for the program.
For more information regarding the local WIC program call the Oregon County Health Department at Alton at 417-778-7450 or at Thayer at 417-264-3114.