PHFE WIC Partners With USC Athletes for Children’s Book Giveaway

Student athletes Clark Slajchert (foreground) and Matt Knowling (background) assist PHFE WIC staff in handing out free children's books. Photo by Heluna Health.
Student athletes Clark Slajchert (foreground) and Matt Knowling (background) assist PHFE WIC staff in handing out free children's books. Photo by Heluna Health.

PHFE WIC, a program of Heluna Health, distributed more than 2,000 free children’s books Wednesday at the Adams and Vermont Certified Farmer’s Market, as part of an early literacy program.

The program, funded by a state grant of $10 million over the course of two years, aims to close literacy gaps that put children from low-income households at a disadvantage when entering school.

“We know that families living in communities with fewer resources and less long-term investment have more barriers to early literacy,” said Shannon Whaley, PhD, director of research and evaluation at PHFE WIC. “These barriers can lead to a 30-million-word gap by the time children reach the age of three.”

Whaley said that the effects of this word gap persist as children enter school.

“That’s why this work is so crucial,” Whaley said. “Our goal is to infuse the home with as many books as we can. We want to enable parents and caregivers to read to children early and often.”

Pregnant people and children under age 5 were eligible to receive the free books. Families were eligible to receive five books for the first person who qualifies for the program, and an additional five books if there are any other eligible family members.

PHFE WIC staff members were joined by men’s basketball players from the University of Southern California, who volunteered their time to hand out books and greet families. Through this collaboration between Heluna Health, TEAM NILO and House of Victory, student athletes are paired with meaningful opportunities to volunteer for public health causes.

Student athlete Chibuzo Agbo was excited when he realized a teammate was handing out “Buzz Boy and Fly Guy,” one of Agbo’s childhood favorites.

“It just brought back a core memory for me, so I’m like, hopefully, once kids get this book, it creates a core memory for them,” Agbo said.

PHFE WIC is the nation’s largest local WIC agency. Through the WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, WIC staff provide an additional $30 in benefits for the purchase of fresh fruits, vegetables and cut herbs each summer at select local farmer’s markets. These markets are ideal places for the agency to reach families and expand its reach in supporting early literacy and healthy eating.

Whaley said that the checks are limited and going fast. The PHFE WIC team has already distributed about one-third of the 19,000 checks available this year.

“I encourage families to get here in June and early July so we can make sure that benefit is available to them,” Whaley said.

The program aims to familiarize families with farmer’s markets in their area and provide greater access to fresh, locally grown and sustainable produce, while boosting the local economy.

Children’s book giveaways will continue at select farmer’s markets throughout greater Los Angeles while supplies last. A full schedule is available at

About Heluna Health

For more than 50 years, Heluna Health has collaborated with nonprofit and community-based organizations, public health agencies, healthcare systems, providers and policymakers to enhance health interventions and ensure equitable access to disease prevention, treatment, care and social resources. Heluna Health is at the forefront of efforts to eliminate health disparities among vulnerable populations, dedicating itself to culturally congruent, community-led interventions aimed at systemic change and improved health outcomes across all communities they serve.


PHFE WIC, a program of Heluna Health, is the largest WIC agency in the country. The program serves parents, infants and children in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. PHFE WIC is nationally recognized as a leader and innovator in nutrition education, breastfeeding support, staff training, customer service and outreach to community partners.


TEAM NILO is dedicated to developing cause campaigns that seamlessly connect collegiate athletes to meaningful charitable initiatives. By leveraging the unique skill sets and influence of these athletes, TEAM NILO strives to create lasting positive change in communities across the nation.

About House of Victory

House of Victory is the official name, image, likeness (NIL) sponsor of USC Athletics. Founded by noteworthy Trojans as USC’s premier donor collective, House of Victory was built to help attract and retain elite student-athletes by providing NIL opportunities to USC student-athletes across all 21 sports. Alumni and fans who pledge their support to House of Victory are committing to continuing the Trojan legacy of excellence.