Newly arrived refugee families in Denver didn’t understand how to use their full WIC benefits and didn’t like some of the foods available to them through the program. This meant they were missing out on crucial nutritious food and milk for their families.
To help families better understand and use their food benefits, Share Our Strength worked with us to help Cooking Matters of Denver investigate and create improved educational materials. The goal was to increase WIC benefit understanding and usage.
After the project launched in 2019, COVID brought delays and complications. However, the team pivoted and launched a two-part project. The first phase entailed in-depth interviews with 54 community members to learn what challenges and knowledge gaps kept them from fully using their benefits. This information informed video prototypes that we tested and refined with input from the same participants. In the second phase, we evaluated the effectiveness of the revised videos with a new group of 50 participants. 
The result? Improved understanding and usage of benefits, putting healthy food on the table for hungry kids across Denver.

Community navigators provide key access

Denver’s refugee population included new arrivals from Syria, Iraq, Congo, Somalia, Tanzania and elsewhere. None were fluent in English and few could read or write at all. They were busy settling their families and adapting to American culture.

Community navigators provided key access and connection.

Denver’s International Rescue Committee connected us with women who were already active and trusted within the community. Fluent Somali, Arabic and English speakers, these women visited local mosques, refugee centers and apartment complexes to engage with WIC families and collect their stories.

The navigators identified key knowledge gaps, like how WIC benefits could be used to buy different sized milk cartons and a complete lack of awareness of a WIC shopper app. Navigator input informed educational videos aimed at helping families navigate grocery stores, find approved food items and make recipes their kids would eat.

Cultural nuances lead to unique barriers

Community navigators were also key in helping us identify cultural nuances to overcome barriers unique to the recent arrivals. For example, in a community with limited written and computer literacy – including among the navigators – WhatsApp proved essential for sharing videos and engaging participants. Navigators built trust through home visits and community connections to overcome challenges such as reluctance to be recorded and need for husbands’ permission to participate.

Working with the navigators took time, patience and money, but we were rewarded with stories and examples that created a deeper understanding of the community’s needs and challenges. This helped us maximize the effectiveness of our educational materials.

Investigating “why” leads to solutions

Although the new arrivals in our study seemed similar at first glance, key differences influenced their experience of shopping for and eating WIC-approved foods. For example, some families took a winding journey to the United States that included long stays in refugee camps. Sometimes this sparked an aversion to peanut butter, a food they associated with fattening up starving children. To address this concern, we created a video explaining that shoppers could spend their WIC peanut butter allowance on beans instead.

After we created and revised the educational videos, community navigators helped us evaluate their effectiveness with a new group of refugee families.

The results? The videos improved families’ understanding and usage of their WIC benefits and the WIC shopper app.  “I wish I could give 10 stars,” one respondent said. “I learned so much.”

“Community navigators were critical to the success of the WIC refugee video project,” said Christina Miller, senior manager of Share Our Strength. “Their insights led to positive relationships in communities and ultimately videos that were found to be valuable and supportive to the WIC Refugee community.”


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