A Squash's Journey: From The Shelf To The Hungry Americans waste an estimated 150 billion pounds of food a year — much of it from supermarkets. Now Walmart and the nation's food bank network are trying to reverse that trend. To see how the system is going, NPR followed squash and corn from Walmart's shelves to a food bank to those who need it the most.
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A Squash's Journey: From The Shelf To The Hungry

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A Squash's Journey: From The Shelf To The Hungry

A Squash's Journey: From The Shelf To The Hungry

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: Today, we're going to ride along on that journey. NPR's Pam Fessler has the story about a new venture between Wal-Mart and Feeding America, the nation's food bank network.

PAM FESSLER: Steven White takes a big bite out of a hot ear of corn, one of several dozen he's boiling at the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Johnson City, Tennessee.

STEVEN WHITE: This is awesome and it's perfect. We need to get it off.

FESSLER: He grabs two gray mitts and lifts the steaming pot from the stove. White not only cooks here. He lives at the shelter. He and his wife both lost their jobs, then their home.

CINDY TIPTON: I think it's just right.

FESSLER: Ten miles away, in Jonesborough, retired nurse Cindy Tipton opens the oven in her trailer home...

TIPTON: Golden brown.

FESSLER: Tipton and White are among tens of millions of Americans who need help getting enough to eat.

TIPTON: If you have to spend money on groceries, then you don't have the money to pay the electric bill or the house payment.

FESSLER: We wanted to find out how Tipton and White got that squash and that ear of corn, and other food. And to do that, we had to turn the clock back about 48 hours.


FESSLER: And it starts in the meat department, where Supervisor Brittany Levasseur and an associate toss packages onto a cart.

BRITTANY LEVASSEUR: This is actually sirloin tip steak. And as you can see, it's still pretty, it's red. There's nothing wrong.

FESSLER: Except the label says, to use or freeze it by today.

LEVASSEUR: And it hasn't sold. So what we will do, we will pull it off the floor, put it in a special box that we have and put it in the freezer.

FESSLER: Along with two-day-old bread and baked goods. At six the following morning, store manager Emily Bowman is checking produce when she finds yellow squash covered in brown spots.

EMILY BOWMAN: It's still very flexible, it still has a good texture to it, but it's not quite as eye-appealing to someone that is looking to, you know, get it at its peak.

FESSLER: Now, what about this corn, which looks to me kind of brownish?

BOWMAN: There's nothing wrong with the corn itself. When you pull back the husk...


BOWMAN: ...and the corn inside is still beautiful. But because the outside is a little dry, we'll be pulling this.

FESSLER: Not long ago, Wal-Mart, like many stores, would have tossed this food away or recycled it for compost or animal feed. But last year, the company decided it made more sense to give it to food banks and maybe polish its image in the process.

: Attention associates. I need all associates with Second Harvest Food Bank donations to bring them to receiving at this time.

FESSLER: So it's 11:00 on Wednesday morning and the meat that was pulled from the shelf yesterday afternoon is now being loaded on the truck.

FESSLER: A hundred and two pounds.

FESSLER: Overall, Wal-Mart has pledged to give food banks about $2 billion worth of food over the next five years. It's the biggest donation ever. And that's where things have gotten a little tricky. How can food banks safely transport all this fresh and frozen food? So, Wal-Mart has also given them a hundred refrigerated trucks, like this one.


FESSLER: The Second Harvest truck picks up more donations from a local donut shop and an organic grocery, before arriving at the food bank warehouse at noon.


MICHAEL LEDFORD: This is our containment room here.

FESSLER: Michael Ledford of Second Harvest says the donations now have to be sorted.

LEDFORD: Any of the dry items, canned goods, things like that may be leaking or anything like that or dented that need inspection go in here.

FESSLER: Unidentified Man #4: So we have two cases. That'll do us at least two meals.

FESSLER: Unidentified Woman #1: It's smelling good.

FESSLER: Unidentified Man #5: I'm thinking it's done now.

FESSLER: Unidentified Man #6: Enjoy that. Make sure Ron give you...

FESSLER: Unidentified Man #7: Thank you all, very much appreciate it.

FESSLER: Unidentified Man #8: All right, everybody, start turning your numbers in over here, and we're ready to go.

FESSLER: Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah, that'll be fine, thank you.

FESSLER: Cindy Tipton, the retired nurse, is here with two friends. They're all on fixed incomes. Widow Virginia Roper says last month she ran out of money.

VIRGINIA ROPER: I didn't have anything to drink and no milk or, you know, and I had to just wait. And now I've got a gallon of milk.

FESSLER: These women are grateful for whatever they get here. Tipton struggles to carry her filled basket to the car. Back at her trailer, she fries up the vegetables.

TIPTON: I've got mushrooms, broccoli, the squash.

FESSLER: It's 4 p.m. Thursday, two days after Wal-Mart began culling its shelves, when she takes her first bite.

TIPTON: It's hot.


FESSLER: Pam Fessler, NPR News.

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