Walgreens today is unveiling its new expanded food selection in several Chicago communities identified as food deserts, or areas that lack access to basic foods necessary to maintain a healthy diet.
Walgreens has redesigned 10 of its stores on Chicago’s South and West Sides to include more than 750 new food items including fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen meats and fish, pasta, rice, beans, eggs, whole grain cereals and other healthy meal components.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 600,000 Chicago residents live in neighborhoods that are either lacking or too far away from conventional grocery stores. Last spring, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley appealed to Walgreens, as Chicago’s most accessible neighborhood retailer, for help addressing the food desert problem.
“We immediately made a commitment to seek solutions for offering these communities more fresh and healthy food options,” said Mark Wagner, Walgreens executive vice president of operations and community management.
In addition, Walgreens has joined forces with Northwestern Medicine and Near North Health Service Corp. to pilot a program designed to educate residents in food desert communities about the link between healthy food choices and preparation and better management of chronic illnesses like diabetes.
Through Northwestern’s and Near North’s Diabetes Collaborative, the pilot program will offer food “prescriptions” to diabetes patients at Near North’s Komed Holman Health Center for healthy foods now available at Walgreens. Patients will receive discounts on featured items at the 67th and Stony Island Walgreens, and shelf tags are posted there to help patients easily identify healthy food options. This model could be replicated with other Near North health centers located near Walgreens food desert stores in the future.
The concept, termed “Food Oasis” by Northwestern, illustrates the community benefit of public and private entities proactively working together to address health care needs.
“We view our Food Oasis offering with Walgreens as a way to meaningfully expand on our 40-year partnership with Near North and to provide added support to patients in our Diabetes Collaborative,” said Northwestern Memorial President and CEO Dean Harrison. “With more convenient access to healthier foods and health education programs, we believe Food Oasis could ultimately help improve health care outcomes for thousands across the city. We are hopeful this program can be expanded to patients with hypertension, obesity and much more.”
Walgreens, Northwestern Memorial and Near North are marking the official launch of the new initiative with a community celebration at the 67th and Stony Island Walgreens kicking off today at noon.
Walgreens is reviewing opportunities to bring its expanded food selection to other food deserts across the country. “We know this issue is not exclusive to Chicago,” said Wagner. “We have more locations in America’s underserved communities than any other retailer. That makes us well positioned to play a role in addressing this important need beyond Chicago.”