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By BRIAN ENGLAR
The News-Post of Frederick

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — The Grace Community Church Farmers Market was able to issue WIC checks to about 450 women during a celebration that featured a moon bounce for children and free used clothing.

Michael Dickson, market master, said he wanted to honor women who care for their families and provide a fun event for the children.

“We created this event today, to bring them in, explain to them how to use their coupons, and let them know it’s OK to come and get vegetables to feed their family,” he said. “There’s no shame in feeding your family.”

Church members said the event fit with their principles.

“Our hope is to help out our community and let people know how much we care,” said Brenda Rota, outreach administrator for the church. “Our families need this.”

And women at the market said the event went above and beyond their expectations.

“I went to a farmers market last year to receive my checks, but it was nothing like this,” said Carla McFarland, who was present at the event. “I actually got laid off last March from my job of 10 years, and I had to go on WIC, and I got another job and I got laid off again.”

WIC is a supplemental nutrition program aimed at women, infants and children that provides nutrition counseling, referrals to health care and social services, and checks that can be used to buy nutritious food.

Fathers, mothers, guardians and grandparents can apply to the program for children under 5 years old. Pregnant women are also eligible.

Families qualify for WIC based on their income and family size. A family of three qualifies if their yearly income is $35,317 or less.

“It’s just a couple items, but it helps,” McFarland said. “It helps a lot to get a couple gallons of milk a month, a couple loaves of bread.”

Most farmers markets accept WIC, but health department officials said they chose Grace Community Church Farmers Market partly because it is the only farmers market in Frederick County to also accept food stamps– now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

“That’s one of our purposes, to give children a healthy start in life,” said Tracey Leef, WIC program coordinator for the Frederick County Health Department. “We aim to provide nutritious food.”

During the Friday event, the farmers market doubled the WIC check value for all food bought through a private fund. Dickson said the event gave out $1,600 worth of food and would continue doing so until the fund ran out.

Vendor Kenneth Stockman said this increased his sales.

“We’ve done very well,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

And those who were present at the event said the market’s efforts to double their WIC benefit drove them to come.

“This is awesome. This is great,” McFarland said. “Every little bit helps.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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