People & Perspectives

Meet Jessica Zander, manager of strategy and operations for Walgreen Benefit Fund

For nearly 90 years, the Walgreen Benefit Fund has been helping team members and retirees experiencing financial hardship. Meet the woman leading it today, whose passions include both nonprofit work and singing in a rock band.

Jessica Zander

In 1939, Charles R. Walgreen Sr., created the Walgreen Benefit Fund when he donated 2,500 shares of Walgreens stock to assist team members and retirees in dire financial need due to hardship.

Fast forward to January 2022, when I was hired to serve as the Fund’s Manager of Strategy and Operations, reporting to board president Mike Oettinger and overseeing both day-to-day operations and broader strategy, fundraising and governance. It was the first time the Walgreen Benefit Fund has had a full-time position focusing 100% on leading the Fund; and when the pandemic hit and team member hardships multiplied, it highlighted the need to put more time, energy and effort toward continuing to grow and advance the Fund.

A culture of care has always been a big part of Walgreens, and I’m honored to be part of it.

My journey to Walgreens

Giving back to others has always been one of my core values. I was part of the Teach for America program after graduating college and have spent my career working for nonprofit organizations that help people in need.

During the pandemic, one of my best friends and I started a business called the Six Capacities that featured a curriculum around personal wellness. A dear friend and family member of one of our Walgreen Benefit Fund board members participated in a Six Capacities retreat, and when this job was created, they reached out to me about it because they thought I’d be a great fit. So for me, it was really meaningful that I was connected to this opportunity through my personal passion of helping people love and take care of themselves.

In my role with the Fund, I partner with various internal team members providing support for the Fund’s activities, many of whom are volunteering their time and capacity to the organization in addition to their “day jobs” with Walgreens. It's awe-inspiring to me that people are willing to give so much of their time and themselves.

In fiscal year 2023, the Walgreen Benefit Fund gave out $2.7 million in grants to team members. This includes assistance for natural disaster emergencies and for qualifying general financial hardship scenarios, such as long-term illness, serious injury, unsafe living conditions and death of a team member or family member. For example, one of our team members who lost her home in the Maui wildfires this summer received an emergency displacement grant so she could find temporary housing for her family. The Fund also provided her with an additional financial hardship grant to secure a new apartment.

We generally have four categories of fundraising, and the biggest one is from team member payroll contributions. Last year, that was over $220,000 of our fundraising. There are also donations from employee fundraisers, external vendors, other individual donors and the Walgreens company itself.

My whole career has been in nonprofit work, and it's pretty incredible to be able to bring to bear everything I've learned and the experiences I've gained, and to be able to do it at such a scale with such an iconic brand and company.

Jessica Zander and her family
                  Jessica Zander pictured with her husband Keith and their son Jack.

 

A day in my life

I live in Bellevue, Washington, with my husband Keith, our 9-year-old son Jack and two rescue dogs: Buster, who is a 7-year-old lab pit bull mix, and Fred, who is 3-year-old hunting dog mix. We moved here from Chicago in August 2022 when my husband Keith got his dream job with the Gates Family Foundation, and we both have careers in the nonprofit sector.

I usually start each day by waking up around 6 a.m. and journaling. I’m a big believer in wellness, so I have a vegetable smoothie every morning, which is a great way for me to get going. I’m on Pacific Time, so I can get an early jump on my day by connecting with the team that helps administer the grants back in Chicago. We review activity of the previous day's grants, then connect with the grant review committee to make sure they're able to make decisions on new grants or applications that came in the day before. So right away, every morning, it's a check of what went out the door yesterday and what needs to go out the door today.

I usually practice yoga after I get my son ready for the day and drop him off at school. Then the rest of my day includes regular check-ins with my boss, our board president who helps me oversee everything, and meetings with board members who carry different responsibilities within the Fund. I meet with our treasurer since we can't be a foundation unless the money is flowing in and out properly, and connect with board members who work in Walgreens Legal, Communications and HR departments, as well as the Security Operations Center. Sometimes it's not everybody every day, but it is everybody every week.

Creative expression

Coming out of the pandemic, it felt like we were all wearing a lot of stress. Finding something that's a release, that brings me joy and makes me feel truly like myself has been important. For me, that expression comes through music. My Grandma Babe passed away about 10 years ago, but she was my bestie. She was a wildly talented pianist who made music a very important part of my life.

Jessica Zander and son

After moving to Washington, I aggravated an old sports injury and ended up needing spinal surgery. As I recovered, I realized I needed to do something that was joyful and cathartic, so I did some research and connected with School of Rock just to take voice lessons. At my first lesson, they invited me to join their adult band of about 20 people.

We get together every Sunday night to jam, and every four months we have a concert with a different musical theme. My first was The Roots of Rock, then over the summer we did the Best of the Eighties. And now we're in the middle of preparing for a Fleetwood Mac concert, which we’ll perform in January.

I read “The Artist's Way” by Julia Cameron when I was pregnant with Jack because I felt like creativity was going to be important to me as a mother and to my child. Turns out, I was right. Jack is a wildly talented and prolific artist, and at age 9 he already has his own art business. He’s into the very creepy macabre and wants to be like Tim Burton when he grows up. I’m a very proud mom.

I’m also very proud to be the steward of something so important as the Walgreen Benefit Fund. It’s an undeniably helpful resource for so many people, and we can't understate the importance of helping our team members in moments of financial need. The money doesn't necessarily create a wholeness for that person and totally fix their situation, but it can help to alleviate a stressful moment.

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