Walmart Pledges $2 Billion To U.S. Food Banks

This morning The Walmart Foundation announced a plan to donate $2 billion over the next five years in cash and food to food banks around the United States. The move marks an expansion of Walmart’s existing partnerships with the organization Feeding America. Guest host Allison Keyes speaks with NPR poverty and philanthropy correspondent Pam Fessler about the donation.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes. This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, more than one in five of all kindergarteners in America are Latino. A new study looks at how ready they are for school.

But first, the Wal-Mart Foundation made a big announcement aimed at easing hunger in poor communities. It says it will give $2 billion in food and cash to food banks around the country over the next five years. The foundation has been working with Feeding America and other organizations, and this new money will ramp that effort up in a big way. A key goal of this donation will be to help food banks with refrigerated trucks and food distribution, an attempt to speed up the process of getting food to the poor and reducing the amount that's wasted. The announcement came today on Capitol Hill, with members of the Congressional Hunger Caucus, anti-hunger groups and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. NPR's Pam Fessler was there, and she joins us now.

Hi, Pam.

PAM FESSLER: Hi, Allison.

KEYES: So what exactly is the Wal-Mart Foundation proposing?

FESSLER: Well, as you can imagine, the - this is a huge announcement, and the anti-hunger advocates are very excited about it. As you mentioned, there's going to be $2 billion that they've committed in food and grants over the next five years. Now, most of that's going to come in the form of food. This is food that's close to the sell-by date that they usually take off their shelves, but it hasn't expired yet. So they're going to be distributing that food from Wal-Marts and Sam Club sites around the country to food banks around the country.

Then they're also going to give out $250 million in grants. Some of this will go to Feeding America, to help to buy refrigerated trucks. They're also going to give grants to programs, including some that are matching with government funds, for summer lunch programs for children, nutrition programs. A lot of people that I've spoken in the anti-hunger community say this is probably the biggest donation of its kind, to anyone's knowledge, to help alleviate hunger.

KEYES: Pam, why do they say they're doing this?

FESSLER: Well, you know, like everyone else, they see that there are a lot of people who are hungry in the country, that the hunger figures keep rising, especially because of the recession. And Wal-Mart has actually been pretty active in this over the past couple of years. They, last year, donated 160 million tons of food to Feeding America.

But I thought it was interesting: Today at the press conference, the head of the foundation, Margaret McKenna, said that the company itself was also noticing that its own customers were struggling. So they've decided - they wanted to have one particular, major focus for their charitable giving for the foundation. And they decided to make it - have the goal of that be to alleviate hunger. And, actually, there's a lot - there are a lot of people in the government and in advocacy groups who really think that this is possible, that you can actually help eradicate - or certainly alleviate it dramatically over the next, say, decade, if everybody works together.

KEYES: Pam, Wal-Mart says it's in a unique position to help with this. Why is that? I mean, except for the fact that they sell food.

FESSLER: Right, right, right. Obviously, they have got lots of food. But they're - I think one of the interesting thing is - I mean, the one thing Wal-Mart really knows how to do is logistics. They know transportation. They know how to move products. They have this really incredible network around the country, and they're going to try and transfer and use that network for this goal of getting food from the right - to the right places at the right time. And there's a big problem with food banks getting the food that they need, when they need it. And this is especially true with fresh produce, because you can't keep it very long. You want to get it out as quickly a possible. Excuse me. And food banks would like to give their clients as fresh food as possible.

So one of the things Wal-Mart's doing is it's going to help with refrigeration. It's going to help with these refrigerated trucks. And it's going to try and help the food bank network figure out the best way to manage these products so people can get the freshest, best food as - when they need it.

KEYES: That's NPR's Pam Fessler. She joined us from Capitol Hill. Thanks for that report.

FESSLER: Thank you, Allison.

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