WIC Experience Review: Uptown Grocery

Uptown Grocery is the liberal idealist little brother of Buy For Less, and I love it. The fancy cheeses, yummy bakery and quality prepared foods are right up my alley. Sometimes I’ll even indulge in their in-house sushi rolls. The new one at Britton and May is never busy (when I go),  and everything is clean and organized.

Shopping for WIC items there is pleasant, but can be frustrating. Particularly for bread and cereal, they only had a few items that would count for WIC. Unlike at Target, WIC items at Uptown Grocery are not clearly labeled. My advice for WIC users at Uptown Grocery is that you be very familiar with which specific cereals, breads and pastas qualify and which do not. A huge benefit of shopping at Uptown Grocery with WIC benefits is that the produce section is plentiful and well-priced. That $8 per child in produce stretches pretty far. We were able to get lemons, limes, bananas, onions, cucumbers and some frozen veggies too!

By far the best part of WIC experience at Uptown Grocery was checkout. There was no line at all, and when I asked the cashier if he was familar using the new eWIC cards, he said he had done it a few times, but that he would be happy to get a manager to come assist just in case. The manager came over and cheerfully made small talk with my 4 year old and I while the cashier rang everything up. A third employee saw me bagging the groceries while wearing a baby and watching a chatty four year old and came to offer her assistance bagging and loading them into my cart.

One of the major issues with using WIC is that we sometimes can feel burdensome or irritating to store employees or other customers. The staff at Uptown Grocery was so kind and went out of their way to be helpful and express kind sentiments to my family.

Review: The shopping itself takes some time because WIC eligible items are not clearly labeled. Be prepared to sift through all the different options to find the specific products that qualify. The staff is extremely kind and helpful, and checkout was a positive and affirming process.

Score: Three packages of overpriced (but totally worth it) house-made sushi rolls, two of which you’ll eat in the car on the way home because you refuse to share with the toddler.

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WIC Experience Review: Quail Springs Target

Full disclosure: I. Love. Target. I love it. I love their in-house product lines; I love the way the stores are clean and bright; I love their seasonal section. When I feel lonely or sad I like to go to Target and think about how all Targets everywhere are essentially the same, and there’s a world full of little havens for me to retreat to. I know this is crazy. I also know that a lot of you out there feel exactly the same.

Devastatingly, my Target love fest hit a serious slow-down when I became a foster parent. WIC (that’s Women, Infants, and Children to the uninitiated) is a federal program designed to help pregnant or breastfeeding women as well as children under the age of five who are nutritionally at risk, including children in foster care.

A few things to know:

  • WIC is meant to only provide enough benefits to feed the eligible child. A family receiving WIC benefits means that they are eligible for a specific quantity of some specific foods each month that is meant to nutritionally supplement the diet of one child under the age of five. Basically, no one is living on easy street or swimming in luxury groceries with their WIC benefits.
  • WIC benefits are extremely specific. For example, each month we are eligible of one unit of 16.3oz to 18oz peanut butter that has not been mixed with honey or any other kind of spread. We are eligible for $8 worth of fruits and vegetables each month, including fresh, frozen or canned, but not dried or pre-cut. We can get up to 32oz of cereal each month, but we have to choose from a pre-set list of cereals (bran flakes are fine, corn flakes are not). You get the idea.
  • Taking your WIC products to the check-out feels a lot like taking a test to be graded, if that test was being graded publicly in front of a lot of impatient people by an instructor who may or may not have any idea what s/he is doing.

So, at this point, you’re probably wondering why anyone would even bother with this mess. My infant foster son can only have a very specific hypoallergenic formula. One 16oz can of his formula costs close to $30. He eats more than $400 worth of formula each month, and we are very lucky that WIC pays for it. Since we use his benefits for his formula, it only makes sense for us to also use the other children’s benefits.

I took the two babies with me to Target to get groceries and browse (aka walk up and down every aisle in the entire store) to give my husband a break one Saturday. While there, we needed to pick up a few groceries, and some of them were covered under WIC. Helpfully, Target has WIC eligible items marked with a sticker that clearly indicates WIC next to the price tag on the shelves. This is especially helpful in the cereal aisle where there are hundreds of options but only the handful of least flavorful and most boring cereals will be covered. Apart from having researched our benefits forwards and backwards, the WIC stickers beside the products helped me feel confident that I was making selections that would ring up correctly at checkout.

I hop in a line with a cheerful looking cashier, and soon I’m dividing my groceries on the conveyor belt explaining that I would be using WIC in addition to my credit card. The cashier was unruffled. She rang everything up, I swiped my WIC card, and a receipt printed stating which items qualified for WIC and which would be charged against my account. The cashier and I checked it out together and everything looked perfect, but when she hit the button to finalize the transaction, all of the WIC items had been charged to my debit card in addition to being taken off of my WIC card. There was no quick fix for this at the register, so the cashier kindly passed me off to customer service

Customer service is where my experience turned sour. Using the barcode on the receipt, the customer service rep would have been able to “return” all of my purchased items with one quick scan, and then check them back out to me with another scan, enabling us to refund the first transaction and try again. When you use benefits like WIC, you begin to expect that it won’t go perfectly the first try or two or three. But that’s not the real problem. The problem happens when the professionals around you are unwilling to give it that second or third try.

The Target representative at Customer Service simply declined trying to ring up my groceries again. She implied that since it was all covered on my debit card in the first place, I really didn’t need to use WIC at all. When I pushed a little harder, she told me outright that, like many people, I must not understand my benefits, and redoing the transaction wasn’t going to change that. In the uncanny timing of children, my toddler chose this moment to begin making a scene, and I was suddenly that parent. That parent with poorly managed screaming children. That parent using government benefits in a store where most people shop with a $4 latte in their hand. Embarrassed and confused and facing down the judgmental looks of the shoppers in line behind me, I fled. Target is lovely, but it’s no longer a safe haven of mine.

Review: Originally I gave Target three stars for well-labeled products and a kind cashier. I dumped a venti latte over those stars and melted them down after leaving customer service.

Overall score: One melted puddle of Pumpkin Spice disappointment.