ATLANTA and TAMPA, Fla., June 29, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- The school year ending for millions of American children means that not only are classes over for the summer but that many children have lost access to the only healthy meal they can count on each day. In the U.S., over 20 million children receive a free or reduced-price lunch at school, with only 10 percent having access to summer meal sites. WellCare of Georgia, a subsidiary of WellCare Health Plans, Inc. (NYSE: WCG), is working to reduce food insecurity and support healthy eating habits through its sponsorship of community gardens across the state.
More than 28.0 percent of children in Georgia live in food-insecure households, well above the national average of 21.4 percent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines "food insecurity" as a lack of access, at times, to enough food for all household members.
"Food-insecure children are more likely than their well-nourished peers to be in poorer health and to be more susceptible to illness," said Dr. John Alexander Johnson, senior medical director for WellCare of Georgia. "WellCare invests in community gardens 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."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, community gardens may offer other physical and mental health benefits by providing opportunities to engage in physical activity and skill building while helping to reduce violence and improve social well-being through the strengthening of social connections.
WellCare of Georgia's community gardens initiative began in May 2013. In its inaugural year, WellCare funded 18 community gardens in 13 counties across Georgia. Today, there are 72 WellCare-sponsored community gardens in 48 counties across the state being tended by 65 community organizations.
WellCare provides grants to community organizations statewide to help get their gardens up and running. The initiative provides fresh fruits and vegetables to at-risk children and families in neighborhoods in need across the state. Community organizations include housing authorities, boys and girls clubs, school systems, Family Connection - Communities in Schools and nonprofit organizations.
WellCare-sponsored community gardens are also the result of partnerships with organizations including Action Ministries Inc., Atlanta Parks and Recreation Department, Atlanta Public Schools - Adult Education, Georgia Food Bank Association, HineHouse Project Inc. and Easter Seals. Additional applications are currently under consideration for funding in the coming months.
In 2015, WellCare partnered with Austin Smith Center in Bibb County for a citywide Shalom Project, the first of its kind in the nation. As a component of the partnership, WellCare provided funds to plant and grow seven community gardens in all designated Shalom communities throughout Macon.
"WellCare is a national leader in addressing the health needs of the children and families we work with, and we are fortunate to partner with them to assist in identifying and implementing health initiatives and activities that benefit our neighborhoods," said Frank Austin, founder and executive director of the Austin Smith Center for Development.
For more information on WellCare's community garden initiative, email CommunityRelations@wellcare.com or visit www.wellcare.com/en/Georgia/Contact-Us/Contact-Us-Form.
As of March 31, 2016, WellCare serves approximately 583,000 Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids® plan members, 37,000 Medicare Advantage plan members and 24,000 Medicare Prescription Drug Plan members in Georgia. To learn more about how we care for Georgians watch Gloria's story at http://youtu.be/qyn-nywze04.
About WellCare Health Plans, Inc.
Headquartered in Tampa, Fla., WellCare Health Plans, Inc. (NYSE: WCG) 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 3.7 million members nationwide as of March 31, 2016. For more information about WellCare, please visit the company's website at www.wellcare.com or view the company's videos at https://www.youtube.com/user/WellCareHealthPlan.
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SOURCE WellCare Health Plans, Inc.