Wal-Mart and its charitable foundation plan to give $250-million in cash and $1.75-billion worth of food over the next five years to fight hunger in the United States, the company announced today. The commitment, called “Fighting Hunger Together,” is among the largest corporate commitments of food and other noncash gifts. It comes as food banks across the country are struggling to keep up with demand from people who have lost their jobs in the recession.
A report released last fall by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service found that an estimated 49 million Americans struggle to get enough healthy food to eat, a 36-percent jump over the previous year.
Food experts don’t believe the economic recovery will quickly improve that situation. “As a matter of fact, we see it going on through 2019,” said Bill McGowan, chief operating officer at Feeding America, the country’s largest network of food banks and a Wal-Mart beneficiary.
Wal-Mart’s commitment will provide 1.1 billion pounds of food, enough for more than a billion meals, according to USDA estimates. Mr. McGowan said that last year, food banks that are part of the Feeding America network delivered 2.6 billion pounds of food.
Even before today’s announcement, the retail company was a big donor to antihunger groups. Last year Wal-Mart became the first business to provide Feeding America with more than 100 million pounds of food in a single year.
The company’s initial cash donations through the effort announced today include $8-million to help food banks improve their ability to serve hungry people. Of that amount, $6-million will help Feeding America add 60 refrigerated trucks to its fleet of 2,000. The trucks enable the charity to get food quickly from grocery stores to food banks before products go bad.
Wal-Mart and the Wal-Mart Foundation will also give $10-million to provide schoolchildren with healthy meals. A grant of $2-million, for example, will help the National Recreation and Park Association feed children during summer months.
In addition to giving food and cash, Wal-Mart officials said they would enlist workers and customers in the fight against hunger. For example, workers would provide expertise to food charities about how to maximize their effectiveness.
The company also plans to work with governments, food manufacturers, and other corporations to reduce hunger nationwide.
“Increasingly, we see opportunities to use our scale and reach to solve challenges in our communities. This is one of those times,” Eduardo Castro-Wright, Wal-Mart’s vice chairman, said in a statement. “By working together, we believe that we can reach a day where no individual in this country has to go to bed hungry or worry there will be food to put on the table tomorrow.”
Last year, Wal-Mart and its foundation gave $512-million in cash and products, according to the company. In 2008 Wal-Mart gave $423-million, $320.5-million of which was cash. That amount was enough to make Wal-Mart the largest donor of cash on The Chronicle’s annual list of corporate donors.