by Julie Giles, Food Program Specialist

At least twice during my time as a family child care provider, we were unsure if the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) would continue. That’s when Wisconsin Early Childhood Association’s Food Program staff sprang into action – by encouraging us to take direct advocacy action and make calls to our legislators to share its important impact.

The combined efforts of letter writing and calls must have worked, because years later, CACFP still exists and continues to assist family child care providers in their efforts to provide healthy meals to the children in their care.

Across the nation, CACFP has helped feed millions and millions of children and adults since its inception in 1968. In Wisconsin, its impact continues to be wide-ranging: In 2021, WECA’s Food Program has helped family child care providers serve more than 2 million meals to 5,000 young children in 550 child care programs across the state. The WECA Food Program proudly serves all 72 counties and 11 Tribal nations in Wisconsin.

My time as a family child care provider and the Food Program are meaningful to me.

There were days – many days! – when my Food Program Area Coordinator showed up at my door right when my child care children seemed to be at their most unruly and the timing for a visit was not great. However, those were the days I probably also needed to see another adult the most, especially one who sometimes came bearing posters or a fridge thermometer, or who came to instruct me about new guidance or offer me free training.

There were times when I thought what I was doing was not acknowledged by anyone. And my paper Food Program claim – which was the way we all claimed back then! – came back with a sticker on it or a hand-written note to suggest a menu improvement, and I knew that someone out there was noticing. There were months when my Food Program check arriving in my mailbox right on schedule meant I could pay my bills when tuition payments arrived late.

There were opportunities that I would not have uncovered if were not for my participation on the Food Program. My first Area Coordinator – someone who was not one to take “no” for an answer – called another provider in my area and forced me to get on the phone to speak with her. That reluctant phone call became the springboard to a decades-long friendship and a direct path to joining a child care support group and ultimately holding office in other professional organizations.

Participation in the Food Program kept me informed about other programs offered by WECA, including trainings, the REWARD Wisconsin Stipend Program and the TEACH Early Childhood® Wisconsin Program. Importantly, some of these programs were developed before the “send” command could deliver information to an inbox, and an inbox was nothing any of us used – or knew of! – in our daily lives. That illustrates the longevity of all these important programs, all of which continue to evolve and innovate with the evolution of technology and the world around us.

During CACFP Week, the question, “What if there were no CACFP?” crosses my mind.

What if efforts to scale back or end the program had been successful?

Would I have had the experiences I have had as a provider without the direct contact – and support – of each of my (wonderful!) Area Coordinators?

Would I have learned all that I have about child feeding and nutrition?

Would I have managed to pay my bills?

Would I even be in business now without an understanding of how broad and how important each of us is in this interconnected child care network?

What if thousands of providers like me – and millions of children and adults – had had to make do without the CACFP?

Thankfully, we only need to guess the answer. And, that is truly something to celebrate.

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