We worry about reports of this retail giant putting local stores out of business and engaging in questionable employment and sourcing practices.
But recently, we’ve noticed headlines like these:
- April 7, 2010: Feeding America Names Walmart and Sam’s Club Donor of the Year 2010
- May 12, 2010: Wal-Mart Gives $2 Billion to Fight Hunger
- November 15, 2010: Walmart Announces Holiday Campaign Focused on Fighting Hunger
- January 20, 2011: Wal-Mart Unveils Plan To Make, Sell Healthier Foods
- January 21, 2011: Walmart joins First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign
- February 25, 2011: Walmart makes good on hunger promise
- March 25, 2011: Walmart Foundation Awards $5 Million to Fight Senior Hunger
We decided to learn more by going to Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters of Walmart and workplace of some 16,000 corporate employees. The unassuming home office, remodeled from a warehouse, contains a sea of office cubicles and seems heavily focused on meetings with suppliers. But it’s also the home of the Walmart Foundation, where we had an engaging and informative conversation with two of the people responsible for hunger-related charitable giving, Julie Gehrki, Senior Director, and Maeve Miccio, Manager.
|Walmart Foundation's Maeve Miccio and Julie Gehrki|
At Walmart, charitable giving occurs on many levels – individual donations such as payroll deductions and contributions based on the hours an employee works for a non-profit organization, store-controlled grants to local organizations, and state and national-level giving coordinated by the Walmart Foundation.
Julie credits Margaret McKenna, President of the Walmart Foundation since 2007, with leading the Foundation to a more forward-thinking and effective corporate-level philanthropic approach. The focus on hunger as the signature issue for Walmart Foundation emerged because it leverages Walmart’s core capabilities to:
- close gaps in the emergency food system
- increase access to nutritious foods
- help people realize long-term solutions to hunger
According to Julie, food donations totaled over 250 million pounds last year. Food bank directors have told her that they receive as much as 35% of their food from Walmart, that it’s higher quality food, and that it consists of more fresh produce, meat, and dairy products than they typically get from other sources.
Food banks are the main route through which donated food is distributed to those in need. Walmart’s warehouse and distribution system personnel can (and do) assist food banks in things like warehouse layout, handling of perishable food, and best shelving and cold storage solutions. And Walmart donated over 150 refrigerated trucks to food banks and Meals on Wheels.
But another reason the focus on hunger makes sense for the Walmart Foundation is that Walmart customers may be more likely than average to experience food insecurity. The average income of Walmart customers is below the national average. As Julie said, “Everything the Foundation does is to benefit low-income people. The people we serve are those who are also benefiting from social services at some point, so we take seriously the fact that all the programs we support move people up ladders toward self-sufficiency.”
Among the hunger-relief programs that have received cash donations (totaling over $500M in the last 2 years) from the Walmart Foundation are
- Meals on Wheels
- Share Our Strength for their Cooking Matters program
- Summer feeding programs for children through the National Recreation and Park Association
- Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom
- Meals at Boys and Girls Clubs of America
- Feeding America and many food banks, including the 5 winners of the recent facebook contest
It appears to us that Walmart has the power, intention, and momentum to truly reduce hunger in America.