Anyone who has used the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a state program designed to help pay for groceries for low-income families Low-income earners have all experienced the pain of picking up food at the grocery store and standing in line at the checkout counter. -out, only to realize that some of the items you selected are not entitled to your benefits. So you ask to change, feeling confused as you squeeze into the line of people waiting impatiently behind you.
That’s where Jessica Conde Rebholtz, owner of the Parent Nutrition Center, comes in. Her business, located at 1125 Summer Street in Eureka, takes the guesswork out of shopping on WIC by only stocking items covered by the program.
Rebholtz, a mother of three, came up with the idea to start a WIC store in Eureka about six years ago, after going through her own humiliating experience. She was in line at Winco using her WIC check to buy food and the woman behind her said something like, Ugh. I hate being in line behind these people. While this certainly wasn’t the first time Rebholtz had to endure judgment in the checkout line, this time she didn’t want to skip it. She replied to the woman, “You mean these people?” And the situation turned into an embarrassing confrontation that left Rebholtz trapped.
It just leaves a sour taste in my mouth, Rebholtz told outpost during an interview at her store on Tuesday. I started to be more self-aware and didn’t shop at times when I knew there would be long lines. I would actually see butterflies lining up. I’m embarrassed and don’t want to be humiliated anymore.
After the confrontation, Rebholtz called his mother in tears to tell her about the experience. Her mother, who lives in Los Angeles, replied, “Why don’t you shop at the WIC store? WIC-only stores are fairly common in LA, but none exist here. The next time Rebholtz visited LA, she asked her mother to take her to one of the WIC stores. She really loved it and knew she needed to open her own store in Humboldt.
Rebholtz nurtured his dream over the next few years, while continuing his longtime teaching career at the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE). When COVID hit, Rebholtz was pregnant with her third child, and she was having trouble finding child care for her two children while she continued teaching via Zoom. She felt it might be the right time to focus on opening the store, and with her husband’s support, Rebholtz left her teaching position.
First she needed to find a space, and after a bit of searching, the couple landed on a small space at Bayshore Mall. They must then apply for a license to accept WIC and EBT (food stamps), a process that typically takes up to six months. Of course, during COVID, this process took even longer, and after signing a lease for the Bayshore Mall space in July 2021, Rebholtz officially opened its doors in April 2022 .
After just a few months working at the mall’s food court, the lease expired and Rebholtz felt that it would be better to move to a larger space where she could stock more merchandise. She did quite well at the mall, but said the biggest feedback she received from customers was that they wished the store wasn’t so open, and Rebholtz felt that a more private location would also helpful. After a period of searching for space, Rebholtz reopened the Parent Nutrition Center on Summer Street in February of this year.
In case you’re not one of the nearly 2,600 Humboldt County residents receiving WIC benefits, let this reporter/mom explain how it works. WIC provides benefits to income-eligible pregnant women, new parents, infants, and children under 5 years of age, in the form of a monthly credit for essential food items you can purchase from certain grocery stores with a card issued by WIC. The number and types of items covered vary depending on the size/needs of each family, but in general you can buy things like eggs, cheese, bread, cereal, juice, milk and baby formula. In addition to fruit and vegetable credits, which are issued as dollar amounts, credits also cover certain sizes or weights of food items. For example, for my four-year-old daughter, we receive $26 worth of produce, 16 ounces of cheese, 2.5 gallons of milk, and 12 eggs, among other items, each month.
Now this is where things get tricky! Not every type, size, or brand of these items qualifies for WIC. For example, if you get 32 ounces of whole grains each month — which can be used for things like whole-grain bread, brown rice or tortillas — you can only buy these in 16-ounce packages. At least locally, there is only one 16-ounce variety of whole-grain bread, and it is often sold out at local grocery stores. Eggs are also complicated. They can only be large, white, cage-free eggs (cannot be too large or giant, they MUST be large.) Most grocery stores only sell one type of large, white, cage-free eggs and they are also often sold out.
And although many stores label their WIC items, things are often mislabeled or outdated. So you might grab something labeled WIC on the shelf below, only to get to the register and learn that it’s actually not covered. WIC used to issue paper checks and you had to pay separately for WIC items and non-WIC items, making the payment process longer and more frustrating. With newer WIC cards, the process is simpler, but you often don’t realize that some items aren’t covered until you pay and receive your receipt. There’s also a handy WIC app for your phone that tells you what items you still have available and what types/brands apply, but it’s not always accurate. There’s even an option to scan items with the app to see if they’re WIC approved, but it doesn’t always work.
At the Parent Nutrition Center, Rebholtz helps reduce frustration by guiding clients through the entire process. After being greeted by Rebholtz, first swipe your WIC card and print out a receipt showing exactly what items you have available. She then goes through each shelf, asks what items you want, and packs them for you. Once you’ve gotten everything you need, Rebholtz swipes your card one more time to pay and you’re on your merry way without any lines of impatient customers behind you.
Providing this level of care and service is especially helpful to certain clients, Rebholtz said, including those new to WIC, people with disabilities, or those who do not speak English as their first language. their first language. Rebholtz and another of her employees both speak Spanish, and if someone doesn’t speak English or Spanish, she can communicate with them using hand movements.
“I had a non-verbal, non-hearing customer come in and her daughter said, We can’t do this in a larger store because she can’t communicate,” Rebholtz said.
Rebholtz also takes pride in helping customers get the most out of their benefits, by guiding them to items and combinations of items that will use up their entire allotment without having to pay some fancy WIC balance that won’t cover anything. She also makes sure to bring as many options as possible. Most stores only have two or three juice flavors covered, but Rebholtz has 10 flavors! She also makes sure to stock less common items like canned hominy, which many people don’t realize is covered by WIC, and is also popular with her Latino customers. “I can’t keep it on the shelf,” she said.
Another way Rebholtz helps her customers is by writing down recipes for some dishes that people might not know how to cook, and helping them find different, delicious ways to use free groceries. She is currently working to establish the store’s Youtube channel, where she plans to share tips and recipes as well as important WIC information.
As his business grows, Rebholtz hopes to open more locations throughout Humboldt to help people shop with WIC in our rural areas. But for now, she just really wants people to know that her store is still here and open. (Monday to Friday from 11am to 7pm and Saturday from 10am to 4pm)
To be clear, you do not need to be on WIC to shop at the Parent Nutrition Center and the store also accepts EBT, cash and credit. But the point of the store is to facilitate the shopping process for people using WIC benefits.
We are here to help further,” said Rebholtz. I just want to provide a safe space where [people] No need to feel like a nuisance.”
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