Rush Employee Volunteers Build Connections With Community

Learn about the history of the Rush Employee Volunteer Program and some of the recent volunteer efforts

Office of Community Health Equity and Engagement News April 14, 2021
CHEE volunteers posing as a group

As an anchor institution on the West Side, Rush is committed to using its resources to improve health and boost wealth in 10 West Side communities where our patients, employees and neighbors live and work. Along with local hiring, purchasing and investing, encouraging employees to volunteer and giving them opportunities to get involved is a key piece of Rush’s Anchor Mission strategy.

Rush employees and students have always volunteered thousands of hours for dozens of organizations each year. In 2018, some of that work was formalized with the launch of the Rush Employee Volunteer Program (EVP), along with a volunteer time-off policy that provides paid hours off for employees to volunteer.

Volunteering not only provides needed services in Rush’s neighboring communities, says Julia Bassett, manager of health and community benefit; it also helps employees who don’t live nearby become more familiar with those communities and their residents, strengthens Rush’s culture of giving back and establishes connections among employees who volunteer together.

From the beginning, community-based organizations have been integral partners in the work. For example, volunteers from the Fishes and Loaves ministry and the MAAFA Redemption Project at New Mt. Pilgrim MB Church, a pillar of the West Garfield Park community, work with Rush volunteers on food distribution and help spread the word in the community that free, healthy food is available.

The first EVP event was a day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019, when more than 150 employees volunteered on the Rush University Medical Center campus and at Rush community partners such as Franciscan Outreach, where volunteers prepared and served meals to guests at the Franciscan House shelter. Additional events followed during the year, and MLK Day in 2020 was another major EVP event.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and, everything at Rush changed — including the EVP’s focus.

It quickly became clear to Rush providers and the Department of Community Health Equity and Engagement (CHEE) team that food insecurity in neighboring communities was increasing, “and we needed to act fast,” Bassett said.

In less than a week, CHEE recruited and deployed Rush volunteers to call patients who were identified as potentially having food insecurity; they connected those who needed assistance with food pantries and help applying for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Meals on Wheels, and additional Rush volunteers delivered free boxes of nutritious food to their homes.

Today, deliveries to seniors are ongoing, supplemented by pop-up sites in West Garfield Park, Austin and North Lawndale where community members can pick up free food boxes. At New Mt. Pilgrim, Rush volunteers work alongside those from Fishes and Loaves and MAAFA, a residential institute for adult men of color that’s based at the church.

“I think Rush's work in the West Side community has been a testament to showing that there are people, and there are large companies, that do want to give back to the community, and do want to sow into the community,” said Jada Roberson, a member of the MAAFA media team. “Them being here, not only just to donate, but to lend their time as well, shows that they're not afraid to get their hands dirty. Even though COVID is such a big issue, they're literally risking their lives to come in to help people.”

Since late March 2020, Rush volunteers have delivered more than 4,800 meal boxes that have fed more than 19,000 people who are in need of healthy food. Rush’s “Feeding the Community” video gives a glimpse of the need and how Rush volunteers have stepped up to work with partners at New Mt. Pilgrim to help meet it.

“Rush is a great medical entity; they're also a great community entity,” said May Henderson, director of Fishes and Loaves distribution. “This takes a lot of heart, this takes a lot of caring — not just about your physical health, but your well-being outside of Rush. These are not people that went to Rush and said, 'Can you help me find food?' This is Rush coming to the community, saying 'I can help you with healthy food.' It's a program that blew my mind, and I'm honored to be a part of it.”

In late spring, when unrest after the killing of George Floyd left many West Side communities with significant property damage, more than 45 Rush volunteers helped clean up in Austin. “I don’t look at this just as a volunteer opportunity, but really as a responsibility,” said volunteer Markierra White, a clinical social worker in Rush’s pediatric primary care clinic and an Austin resident. She called it “an honor” to volunteer alongside her colleagues during the cleanup.

In all, more than 300 Rush employee volunteers have showed up to help with food insecurity and community cleanup during the pandemic.

As part of National Volunteer Month, Rush employees were invited to get a taste of volunteering on April 7. The 34 employees who volunteered spent the afternoon helping Rush community partners with tasks that included packaging and distributing meals in West Garfield Park and Austin; organizing the library and deep-cleaning the gym at KIPP Academy in Austin; participating in a virtual career day for kids in partnership with the YMCA of Metro Chicago; and cleaning and organizing at Sarah’s Inn, an Oak Park agency that serves survivors of domestic violence.

Every community is home to many organizations that could use volunteer help, Bassett said. “If you have time to dedicate, find a way to do that — either with us, or with a community-based organization in your area. Find a way to get engaged, and you’ll see the rewards.”

If you’re interested in getting involved with any of the below volunteer opportunities at Rush, email Julia_S_Bassett@rush.edu.

Food pantry distribution

Theodore Herzl Elementary School, 3711 W. Douglas Blvd., Chicago

April 22, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

April 29, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

May 6, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

May 13, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

May 20, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

May 27, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Food distribution in the community

KIPP Academy Chicago, 116 N. Leclaire, Chicago

May 1, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

New Mt. Pilgrim MB Church, 4301 W. Washington, Chicago

May 21, 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

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