You don’t often hear a Women, Infants, Children site compared to a house of worship. But Leomeris Veras, 28, counts on the St. Barnabas Hospital WIC site at 2021 Grand Concourse for nourishment – physical and spiritual. For low-income women in Mount Hope, the site lends an unpredictable life some consistency.
In November, when the New York State Department of Health announced plans to shutter the 2021 Grand Concourse site, health care providers, counselors and participants like Veras rallied to keep it open and succeeded. WIC is a Federal supplemental nutrition program for pregnant, breastfeeding women and children under the age of five.
“There’s another WIC site a couple blocks away,” Veras said. “But you know how when you go to a church, even when you move you go to the same church? Change is hard. [The staff at the 2021 Grand Concourse site] get you your checks and food. But they also listen to your problems. You don’t always have somebody at home to talk to.”
St. Barnabas WIC administrator Maggie Dumont stopped by a Community Board 5 health and human services committee meeting in November to ask for help. In order to renew its partnership with the state health department at 2021 Grand Concourse, St. Barnabas had responded to an open request for proposals.
Although St. Barnabas has operated a WIC program since 1989 and helps thousands of participants, the 2021 Grand Concourse site earned a score on its state health department evaluation lower than at least one other Bronx site and was slated for closure, Dumont said. The 2021 Grand Concourse site is the largest of three St. Barnabas sites.
Surprised and concerned, Dumont and her colleagues started a petition. More than 6,000 providers, participants, elected officials and Mount Hope residents signed. In December the state health department reconsidered, spokeswoman Claire Pospisil said.
“The WIC program will continue to operate on the Grand Concourse,” Pospisil confirmed.
St. Barnabas, assigned 7,200 participants, has 9,400 participants enrolled.
“We run an efficient program,” Dumont said.
The state health department would have had to spend money to close the 2021 Grand Concourse site, more money to open a new site or expand an established one. Meanwhile, Dumont would have had to lay off staff members who live in the Bronx, she said.
The 2021 Grand Concourse site is home to a new WIC breastfeeding promotion program; Veras works at the site one day a week as a peer counselor.
Assemblyman Nelson Castro sent a letter to the state health department, as did Councilman Joel Rivera.
“We’re one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in the city,” Castro said. “We need these programs.”
Dumont was relieved when informed that the site would stay open.
“I’m going to have a merry Christmas,” she said.
Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or firstname.lastname@example.org