Community Impact

Health is at the heart of Walgreens Volunteer Week

Learn more about the first-ever week dedicated to helping local communities live more joyful lives through better health.
Sarah Cason, Walgreens Stories
On nine acres in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, a renewable energy campus and urban farm are taking shape. The area houses Illinois’ first anaerobic digestor, which heats and decomposes food waste and landfill to make fuel. The initiative is projected to compost 85,000 tons of waste, produce up to 26,000 pounds of healthy food and create nearly 50 permanent jobs for Chicagoans when it officially opens.

On May 10, however, the digestor building was filled with the sound of hammering, breaking tiles and, above all, laughter.

It’s the sound of Walgreens team members, many of whom are meeting in person for the first time in two years. They’re breaking down colorful ceramic squares and cementing the shards onto precut slabs. Eventually, the slabs will come together to form a vibrant mosaic that will adorn a nearby viaduct and welcome people to the neighborhood.

Two females paste mosaic tiles to slabWalgreens inaugural Chicagoland Volunteer Week is underway, conceived to offer local corporate team members the opportunity to give back to the community in a variety of ways. At the core of every volunteer activity is the chance to help people live more joyful lives through better health.

This event specifically saw the likes of Illinois State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins and State Representative Mary Flowers, both longtime servants of Auburn Gresham’s residents and supporters of the neighborhood’s growth.

“This was once a lot of dead space—an old impound lot. Now, this will be a living testimony to the hard work these people are putting into the community,” says Flowers. “A beautiful mosaic inviting people to a living, breathing farm—it’s wonderful.”

Volunteer Week was planned in conjunction with Chicago Cares, a local nonprofit that focuses on revitalizing neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of Chicago. Megan Kriss, senior manager of communications at Walgreens Boots Alliance, played a large role in coordinating efforts with Chicago Cares.

“Walgreens has a long history of giving back to our communities, and as the team planned this Volunteer Week, it was important for us to not only select projects that connect us to our community and align to our purpose, but also to give our team members the opportunity to reconnect with each other,” says Kriss.

The mosaic itself was designed by members of the Auburn Gresham community and Green Star Movement, another Chicago nonprofit organization dedicated to creating public art that beautifies urban spaces. The completed mosaic will adorn an otherwise nondescript tunnel entrance underneath the nearby railroad tracks and welcome visitors to this revitalized area of the community. Rooted by the ideas of blossoming, growth and family, the mosaic to-be incorporates African symbols against a color scheme that reflects the changing seasons in the Midwest. Team members on the merchandising initiative team are hard at work on the spring equinox portion of the mural.

A rendering of a colorful mosaic on a viaduct.
The blue symbol to the left of “always growing Auburn Gresham” is known as “nea onnim no sua a, ohu” which translates to “he who does not know can know from learning.” “Nyansapo” or wisdom knots, to the left of the welcome message, represent wisdom, ingenuity, intelligence and patience.
Although Walgreens corporate headquarters remained open throughout the pandemic, it fully reopened in April 2022. Since that time, teams have begun reconnecting in person, including through events such as this one.

Anna Gottfreid, senior analyst in merchandising initiatives, participated in some volunteering events while working remotely, such as picking up trash in her neighborhood, so giving back in person and alongside her colleagues is even more fulfilling. She’s also loving the chance to exercise a creative outlet by building the mosaic.

Spanning physical and emotional wellbeing to skills development and healing, every volunteer event was anchored in health and wellness. Walgreens offered its team a veritable menu of opportunities that could be done in person in the community, at the Deerfield or downtown Chicago offices or remote. Team members signed up to pack wellness kits with healthy Walgreens products to distribute in South and West Side neighborhoods, participated in pro-bono marketing and social media consulting sessions for local nonprofits curated by Chicago Cares, sent awareness texts for Mental Health Awareness Month on behalf of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline, and made repairs for Working Bikes, which repairs bicycles for redistribution to those in need.
Ellen Ray, chief executive officer of Chicago Cares, helped develop the Volunteer Week calendar so both organizations could achieve their goals.

“We’ve been developing our partnership with respect to Walgreens’ commitment to engage in the community and contribute to a broader understanding of wellness and health in Chicago, as well as our commitment to engage volunteers in community-driven service that advances health equity,” says Ray.

“We like to think that when folks can get hands on, it’s the start of a journey toward greater connection, empathy and a deeper understanding about our city. This piece of public art is a testament to what happens when a community comes together and supports a vision.”

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