Wholesome Wave Georgia began a partnership with Wellcare Health Plans in 2014. WellCare focuses exclusively on providing government-sponsored managed care services, primarily through Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans, to families, children, seniors and individuals with complex medical needs. WellCare serves approximately 3.9 million members nationwide.
Senior Community Advocate, LaTorey Howard, shares more about WellCare's work in the community.
Hunger isn’t just a developing-world problem. In Georgia, nearly 2 million residents, including about 500,000 children, live in food deserts. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food deserts as parts of the country, usually in impoverished areas, which are lacking fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods. This is primarily due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers.
As a member of WellCare of Georgia’s Advocacy and Community-Based Programs (ACBP), I know of several rural Georgia counties that are food deserts. Fortunately, there are organizations like Wholesome Wave Georgia that are helping communities increase access to fresh, healthy, locally grown food.
After meeting with Wholesome Wave Georgia, I identified farmers' markets in the area that are helping Georgians get access to fresh fruits and vegetables. I met with the market managers at Mulberry Street Farmers Market and International City Farmers' Market to talk about Wholesome Wave Georgia’s Georgia Fresh for Less program.
Georgia Fresh for Less matches individuals' SNAP and EBT benefits dollar-for-dollar at participating farmers’ markets. For example, when a shopper spends $50 they get $100 worth of fresh, local food.
Farmers’ markets without sufficient financial support would have difficulty providing the matching benefit. To help support Farmers’ markets and Georgians’ access to fresh food, WellCare partnered with Wholesome Wave Georgia to support their matching efforts.
Through the Wholesome Wave Georgia partnership, we identified a third farmers market - Rockmart Farmers Market - in rural north Georgia. They too are a recipient of the Georgia Fresh for Less program. As a result of WellCare’s partnerships and collaborations with community stakeholders, Rockmart Farmers Market doubled its number of shoppers and increased the length of time it is open.
We also assisted with expanding the offerings of farmers’ markets. We worked with the market managers to help include cooking demonstrations with a nutritionist and dietitian as well as providing healthy recipes, shopping lists, and tips on making healthy food selections. Mercer University is also helping by surveying individuals shopping at farmers’ market to better understand the needs of the community.
To help seniors in the community, WellCare entered into a partnership with Community Health Works and its Veggie Van, a vehicle that travels throughout central Georgia to promote health and nutrition. The Veggie Van has not been in operation for the past two years, but the farmers’ market managers saw a need to help seniors in the community. Typically, seniors receive a smaller food stamp allotment and need additional food support throughout the month. The Veggie Van was relaunched to support seniors’ access to healthy food.
WellCare supports the efforts of these organizations because they help to supplement food-security efforts by increasing access to nutritionally rich foods that may otherwise be unavailable to low-income families while also encouraging a sense of community ownership.