Apr 25, 2021
National Volunteer Week: Finding New Ways To Support Our Communities During The Pandemic

When Cigna awarded her a fellowship to give back to her community, Haily Beem planned to host a pop-up care village in Los Angeles in partnership with LavaMaeX, a nonprofit that teaches people how to bring mobile showers and other services to individuals experiencing homelessness. For Beem, who is one of 15 Cigna employees selected in 2020 for Cigna's annual Community Ambassador Fellowship program, it was an opportunity to help people experiencing homelessness obtain basic essentials.

Seemingly simple acts, like a warm shower or a sink with soap for hand-washing, can provide those in need with a sense of comfort and a sense of confidence – and, of course, hand hygiene is critical to preventing disease including COVID-19. When mobile services were suspended due to the pandemic, Beem, who works in Cigna’s information protection department, pivoted to help provide handwashing stations and hygiene kits in homeless encampments.

“It was eye-opening to understand what people really needed. I learned to truly solve a problem, I needed to observe, listen, ideate and act on what I saw – instead of what I thought I knew,” said Beem.

Her personal hygiene drive provided a month’s worth of hygiene kits, which included body wipes, deodorant, snacks and more. Then, working with LavaMaeX’s marketing and communications team, she built LavaMaeX Connect, a website for a global, online community of mobile hygiene service providers.

“I encourage everyone to give back with your professional skillset. Not only was I able to make a lasting impact, but I experienced three months of healing, grew my compassion and learned the true power in listening and building authentic connections.”

Connecting those in need with fresh, healthy food

Annamarie ‘Annie’ Scozzare, an application development senior manager at Cigna, knew food waste was common, especially after working in the restaurant industry. It was a friend’s social media post that introduced her to Food Rescue Hero.

“Food Rescue Hero is an app that alerts volunteers when surplus food is available from a restaurant or grocery store and they claim it like a rideshare driver would claim a ride,” said Scozzare. “The volunteer picks up the food and brings it to a nonprofit that serves those in need.”

She began working with the group, based in Pittsburgh, and was excited to learn they were expanding to Philadelphia, where she lives. Scozzare put together a program for her Community Fellowship Ambassador project to develop a screening process for the local housing authorities. The process would help identify people experiencing food insecurity and determine where food donations should be sent, as well as track metrics on the program’s success.

Once the pandemic hit, her plan was halted but another opportunity presented itself. She was able to help implement a learning management system that allows Food Rescue Hero to expand their reach, serve more people and support new cities launching a food rescue program. Food Rescue Hero has a goal of launching or partnering with food rescues in 100 cities by 2030. 

“It’s been a challenging experience, working on this remotely, but I feel so fortunate to have been granted this opportunity,” said Scozzare. “I learned so much about equity, dignity and insecurity as they relate to food, a basic need for all, and how that impacts so many other social determinants of health as well as the environment. I encourage everyone to explore some sort of volunteer opportunity, especially if you are able to incorporate something you are passionate about.”

The Community Ambassador Fellowship program is just one way Cigna employees support their communities. Employees are also encouraged to engage in community service with a dedicated eight hours of paid time off for volunteering, and in 2020, Cigna employees donated nearly $2.3 million to more than 2,800 causes. Learn more in our Cigna Connects report.