SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's Women, Infants and Children program will reopen its clinics Friday with $2.5 million in emergency funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The program also will begin to issue food vouchers to new and existing clients as workers return to their offices. The Utah Department of Health anticipates clinics will open by noon.
Meantime, a drive was launched in Layton to help mothers who wouldn't have been able to get food expanded beyond the organizer's expectations, and donations of all kinds will be available for anyone in need Saturday.
Utah WIC Director Chris Furner called the federal money welcome news for 66,000 moms, babies and children, especially those who didn't have vouchers for October.
"Unfortunately, we’re not entirely out of the woods," he said. "If Washington can’t reach an agreement to end the shutdown by the end of this month, we’ll likely wind up in the same position we found ourselves in earlier this week."
The program has been largely idle since Tuesday when clinics where shuttered, workers were furloughed and no new food vouchers were issued due to the impasse in Congress. The Salt Lake County Council and Summit County Commission took emergency action earlier this week to provide local money to keep clinics open.
The federal government funds WIC, but state and local health departments in Utah run the program. It provides food and nutrition education to low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, and infants and children up to age 5.
Seeing a need to help WIC recipients who wouldn't be able to get services, Cristen Smith made a humble gesture Tuesday on Facebook.
"I just made a simple little post, saying 'I don't have a lot to offer, but I have a pear tree in my backyard,'" Smith said. "'So, if anybody needs some free pears ... I can help any women out.'"
Smith, a single mother who has used WIC's services, was surprised by what happened.
"All of a sudden, it just blew up. Next thing I know, my inbox is just flooded. And my posts were just flooded. Hundreds more people got involved," said Smith, now known as the "Pear Lady."
Donations of more than food — clothing, blankets, diapers, toys — poured in. A couple of businesses also stepped up, including Associated Foods, Smith said.
"You always have something that you don't need that somebody else does," said Kaitlyn Ford, Smith's sister and a donation drive organizer. "You may have nothing, but say it's an old pair of pants; say it's a can of formula your kid is allergic to — bring it."
The items will be available at Layton Commons Park, 437 N. Wasatch Drive, on Saturday starting at 4:30 p.m. to anyone in need.
"You can shut down a government," Ford said, "but you can't shut down a community."
Contributing: Mike Anderson
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