Ellington’s father passed away when he was in third grade, leaving his mother and two younger sisters without a steady income or, in the worst moments, food in their mouth. His mother had been a homemaker and struggled to find a job. This taking place in his home state of Georgia in the early 1960s, there were little to no social service programs from which his family could benefit.
It left Ellington with what he calls “a fire burning within him” to ensure other young people don’t suffer the same fate. Because, as he puts it, “What good is it to have a fork without any food?”
Ellington, now a store manager in Tomball, Texas, can interpret that thought differently today. A fierce proponent of Red Nose Day and its goal to end the cycle of childhood poverty, he is a strong believer that if you have a little extra to donate, it can change the recipient’s life. In other words, if you can spare a little food for someone else’s fork, it can spark a chain reaction that inspires all of us to give.
Ellington joined the military as a young adult, which eventually led him to move to New Orleans. He started a career in law enforcement once his time in the military ended, and he spent most of his adult life in New Orleans. He was settled and happy there, until Hurricane Katrina devastated the coast in 2005. Ellington, like 1 million other Louisianians, lost everything.
“All I had were the clothes on my back,” he remembers, pausing to collect himself.
He relocated to Texas, and found his way to Tomball. Despite not having a suit to wear, he secured an interview with Walgreens and was hired. Now, 15 years later, Ellington is a devoted leader to his fellow team members, who he considers his family.
“People say all the time that family comes first,” says Ellington. “You really have two families—your family at home and your family here at Walgreens. That’s the way it really is. The people here care for you.”
It’s this tightknit feeling with his team and community that planted the seed of affection for Red Nose Day in Ellington.
“Years ago, I got off work at the store, and I noticed a lady with a young daughter who was maybe 5 years old while I was walking to my car,” he recalls. “She was begging people for money because she wanted to get something to eat for herself and her daughter. I stopped and I took her to the grocery store. I thought to myself, ‘There has to be a better way to help people and kids in need.’ It was a powerless feeling. That’s why I appreciated the chance to serve and support my community that came when Red Nose Day started eight years ago. It was gratifying to know I could help not only on the local level, but globally.”
To date, Walgreens and Red Nose Day have raised $140 million for the health and well-being of young people. One of the local nonprofits in Tomball that benefits from Red Nose Day’s charitable efforts is Covenant House, an organization dedicated to providing shelter, food, immediate crisis care and other services to homeless youth. Red Nose Day funds help to provide support and safe environments to youths in need, while also teaching essential skills for independence in adulthood.
Along with providing direct assistance to kids and young people experiencing poverty, Red Nose Day is important to Ellington in that it inspires giving among the community.
“For me, Red Nose Day extends beyond donating,” he says. “A couple of years ago, a regular customer of mine came in who had a limited income. She wanted to donate but was on a strict budget. She had $5 to spend and gave $2 to Red Nose Day. She left, but returned a few minutes later to tell me that the man who stood behind her in line overheard her dilemma and ended up giving her $20 to help replace the money she donated. My point is that one act of charity created in another individual an act of charity. It’s all about caring for people other than ourselves.”
This year, the iconic red noses are back in stores, and donations will be accepted in person or online through May 31.
“I know of nothing more important than ending the cycle of poverty for children,” says Ellington. “Just like Red Nose Day is in Walgreens’ DNA, it’s in my DNA, too.”