Saf-T-Gard – Corporate Citizen of the Year

Saf-T-Gard – Corporate Citizen of the Year

Corporate Citizen Saf-T-Gard Stands Up for Community
For many Northbrook residents, Saf-T-Gard International, Inc. may not be a household name even after 43 years as a local business. However, Village leaders and area charities know that Saf-T-Gard and the family behind it are always ready to lend a hand. Their commitment to the community has grown even stronger during the pandemic, making them a deserving choice for the 2022 Corporate Citizen of the Year.

Saf-T-Gard’s story begins in 1936, when Leo and Lillian Rivkin launched the Latex Glove Manufacturing Company in a Chicago loft using shared balloon-factory equipment. Today, the business is in its fourth generation of family ownership, led by CEO Richard Rivkin and his son, President/COO Loren Rivkin. The company moved to Northbrook in 1979 and was renamed Saf-T-Gard in 1989, reflecting the business’s expansion into a wide range of workplace safety products. The company manufactures its own proprietary brands of safety apparel and distributes additional products from hundreds of global brands, providing head-to-toe protection for workers in all types of industrial settings.

Throughout its decades in Northbrook, Saf-T-Gard has built strong connections with the business community and local leadership. The company joined the Chamber as soon as it moved to Northbrook, and both Richard and his father Norman served on the Chamber Board, with Richard serving as Chair in 1999. Saf-T-Gard has also partnered with the Village in unique ways.  Before occupying its current building, Saf-T-Gard allowed its temporarily vacant building to be used for police K-9 training, and also accommodated the construction of the Village’s second water tower in 2011 behind Saf-T-Gard’s Sky Harbor property.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the Village again turned to the company for help, putting its supply chain to use in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. At a time when face coverings were the primary protection – but were mostly unavailable in stores – then-Village President Sandy Frum contacted Richard Rivkin with an ambitious plan to give out free face covers to the community.

“We got a call from Sandy asking, ‘How fast can you get 25,000 masks?’” recalls Richard. “We’re in the PPE business. We made it happen.”

As Sandy remembers, Richard and Saf-T-Gard “stepped up without hesitation. Within a matter of days, the Village had in hand thousands of masks – provided at cost – and was able to distribute them to residents and businesses at a time when masks were very hard to find.” The masks were handed out in April 2020 at a massive drive-thru event at the former Grainger property, followed by a second distribution at Northbrook Court.

“We’re glad that the Village leaders knew that they could call on us,” remarks Loren. “That comes from the relationships that have been built over time. The North Shore is the community we live and work in, and we want to help keep people safe.”

More recently, Saf-T-Gard is taking action to increase employment opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities, providing routes for these individuals to learn and develop vocational skills. Richard describes a “light-bulb moment” when he attended a reception at Cafe Voca, the North Suburban YMCA’s snack bar that is staffed by young adults with autism.

“I knew that we could identify tasks in our operation that could be performed by people with certain developmental disabilities,” notes Richard. Working with specialized employment counselors at Glenkirk, Saf-T-Gard has so far hired three individuals for part-time positions. “It’s been a win-win all around. They’ve been warmly welcomed and respected as co-workers, plus it frees up some of our other staff to do more advanced work.”

Local charities have benefited from Saf-T-Gard’s consistent support. Every year during the holiday season, the company donates to local nonprofits in honor of its employees and clients. In 2021 that list included the Northern Illinois Food Bank and The Greater Chicago Food Depository. Since 2020, the Northbrook Farmers Market has been made safer with hand sanitizer donated by the company.

Community involvement is also a priority for members of the Rivkin family. In addition to his past service with the Chamber, Richard has been a Rotarian for more than 20 years with leadership roles at the local and district level, including President of the Northbrook Rotary Club from 2009-2010 and District Governor from 2016-2017. His Rotary involvement has included international service trips, usually with his wife and fellow Northbrook Rotarian Helen, to Guatemala, India, and Nigeria, with programs that support education, clean water, and polio immunization. Richard has also been instrumental in supporting Rotary Club of Northbrook during the pandemic, providing essential technical assistance that allowed the club to hold Zoom and hybrid meetings.

That service ethic is carrying forward to the next generation of Rivkins. Loren’s wife Jill is one of the founding Board members of Gratitude Generation, a Deerfield-based nonprofit and Chamber member. Gratitude Generation’s mission is to instill gratitude in future generations by creating hands-on service projects for children and families, providing original elementary-school curriculum (GLOW! = Gratitude Lights Our World), and youth leadership training. Loren and Jill’s daughter serves on the Teen Board for the organization.

Quietly supporting the community in a myriad of ways, Saf-T-Gard epitomizes the ideal of corporate citizenship. “Not everybody knows us because we don’t have a big retail presence,” reflects Richard, “but we feel very connected to this community and are glad to share our time, talent and treasure. It’s who we are and what we do.”