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DEERFIELD, Ill. – Walgreen Co. unveiled 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.
The drug store chain 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 and whole grain cereals.
According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 600,000 Chicago residents live in neighborhoods that are either lacking in or too far away from conventional grocery stores. Last spring, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley appealed to Walgreens, as the city's most accessible neighborhood retailer, for help in 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. "Walgreens has taken great pride in meeting the needs of Chicago communities since opening our first store on the city's South Side 109 years ago. Today, we couldn't be more pleased to provide additional basic staples that will inevitably help improve health outcomes for many in these previously underserved communities."
In addition, Walgreens 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. Shelf tags have been posted 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.
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."
Walgreens operates 7,545 drug stores in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.