Life

5 Quick and Easy Back-to-School Crafts and Snacks

It’s hard to believe that it’s time to start talking about Back to School already. I mean, it feels like summer just started! But a quick glance at the calendar tells me that the big day is practically here.

I won’t lie – there’s a small part of me that will be doing a little happy dance that first day when the bus pulls away. There’s been a lot of bickering and arguing among my five kids as of late…

But I’ll also miss the one-on-one time that summers afford me, as well as being able to schedule spontaneous family outings any day of the week. So we’ll be making the most of our time before school starts by cooking and crafting and creating fun memories.

I’m still planning exactly what projects we’re going to tackle, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites that we’ve done as a family in the past.

Washi Tape Personalized School Supplies

School supplies just don’t get any cuter than these basics that have been doctored up with Washi tape! Young children will need some help using the X-acto knife for trimming the tape (or scissors will work as well), but they’ll have a blast choosing colors and patterns and wrapping the Washi tape to personalize all of their school supplies.


Create A Homework Box

This is a little project that we complete every year as we’re shopping for school supplies. We pick up an extra or two of all of the items on our list that we may need to use for homework assignments, and pick up a plastic storage box that will house them all. It makes homework time so much simpler because the supplies are specifically designated for homework only, meaning those house-wide hunts for a glue stick or scissors are a thing of the past!


DIY Friendship Pins Kit

Do you remember friendship pins? I put this adorable kit together for my girls when my youngest was starting first grade. She was a little nervous about being in school all day for the first time, and showing her how to make friendship pins was a great way to get her excited about going to school. She couldn’t wait to pass out her creations to her classmates – the pins were the perfect way to help her connect with old and new friends!


DIY No-Crust Frozen Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches

Prep for school lunches by making a huge batch of these homemade No-Crust PB & J sandwiches. Dare I say my kids might prefer their custom creations to the store-bought variety? Making a huge batch in the days before school starts will make packing those lunches a snap!


No Bake Peanut Butter Bars for Back To School

I’d recommend waiting to whip up a batch of the no bake PB bars until the night before school starts; any sooner and they just won’t last! Three main ingredients, plus your choice of mix-ins, means that this recipe can be made to please. They double as an on-the-go breakfast and a delicious after school snack!


My favorite aspect of all of these projects is that they take very little time and effort, leaving plenty of time for laughing and chatting about the upcoming school year. We all start to go a little stir crazy when the hottest days of summer are upon us, but activities like these always bring us together and end up being tons of fun.

Tara Kuczykowski is the mom behind the blog Unsophisticook.com and is a member of the Walmart Moms Program

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U.S. Manufacturing

Congressman Helps Sleeping Bag Factory ‘Exxel’ at Creating U.S. Jobs

The chief executive officer of Exxel Outdoors swam against the tide of manufacturers moving their businesses overseas – a calculated risk that has led to continued success over the last 17 years at a sleeping bag factory in rural Alabama.

Helping smooth the way was Congressman Robert Aderholt of Alabama’s 4th District. The longtime U.S. representative co-sponsored and supported legislation that has helped companies like Exxel better compete in the global market, resulting in expanded production and more jobs in the States.

Recently, we caught up with Aderholt after he toured the Exxel factory and asked him about the importance of American made.

Q: How did you first connect with Exxel Outdoors in Haleyville, Alabama?

A: I first became aware of Exxel when I heard they were looking to “reshore” their operations from overseas to right here in Alabama. There were a number of trade regulations that stood in their way, and we worked together to clear them up so that they could build their plant and create jobs for some people who had not found work in over two years. It’s always fun to see the different styles of sleeping bags coming off the line. In a recent visit, Star Wars and Hello Kitty sleeping bags were being produced. And when you are walking through a Walmart store and see those sleeping bags, you immediately recognize they were made in America and right here in Alabama.

Left to Right: Exxel Outdoors CEO Harry Kazazian, Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt, Exxel’s Plant Senior Vice President Barbara Garrison

Q: Why are American-made products important to your district?

A: Alabama’s 4th Congressional District is very rural. But it is also very productive. Farms in the district are literally helping to feed America. The 4th District is also helping to clothe, house and protect America as well. In addition to facilities like Exxel, inside our district are textile plants, manufactured housing facilities and a fire hydrant production company. No matter where you live in America, look at a fire hydrant and there is a good chance it will say that it was made in Albertville, Alabama. The men and women who work at these facilities are contributing to their communities and growing the economy.

Q: In your 20 years representing Alabama, how has your district been impacted by manufacturing jobs being moved overseas?

A: My district has been heavily impacted by jobs being moved overseas. The textile manufacturing sector has especially been hit hard. This had resulted in thousands of jobs lost since 1997. I believe this trend, though, is changing and, if not almost reversed, slowed dramatically. I believe the future of American manufacturing is brighter than it has been in many years.

Q: What would you say to companies to encourage them to follow Exxel’s example and create and keep jobs in the U.S.?

A: We have a workforce across the 4th District that is reliable and ready to work. We also have an excellent community college system that loves to partner with local industry for job training. We just recently had a metal procurement company move into the district specifically to have access to the students coming from Wallace State Community College in Hanceville. I say all of this to just remind companies looking to expand that there are communities across this country that are standing ready to help you be successful and to help keep that Made in the USA sticker on products.

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Life

Iconic Brawny Man Steps Aside for Women’s History Month

What does it mean to be strong? To be resilient? As the makers of Brawny paper towels, it’s our job to make sure the iconic Brawny Man – and the product he represents – embodies these traits.

And that’s why, in honor of Women’s History Month, The Brawny Man is temporarily stepping aside this March to showcase strong women and their impact on history (yesterday and today).

This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s a real change for a brand whose toughness has been represented by a plaid-clad guy for more than 40 years. So we are excited to bring this limited edition packaging design to Walmart customers. Who says a woman can’t take the place of the Brawny Man? Not us.

While simple, the idea that being strong isn’t limited to men was a new way for us to think about Brawny. And in that thinking, we found a connection with consumers that goes way beyond paper towels. As a result, the #StrengthHasNoGender initiative was born last year as an extension of the “Stay Giant” campaign for our paper towels.

This year, we found more inspirational stories to share. From the first African-American female combat pilot to a college student who developed an app that detects breast cancer, strong women are making a difference and breaking barriers in so many different fields. You can view these films on our website, and I encourage you to do so. These achievements inspire us all to reach higher and push further – no matter what barriers we may face. They’re truly inspiring stories, and they get to the core of what our brand is about.

But why these stories? Because we know that women are currently underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Empowering women and girls in STEM seemed like a great way to inspire young women with our campaign. That’s why we partnered with Girls Inc., to encourage girls to participate in hands-on activities, explore, ask questions and solve problems. And because someday we want these same girls to consider a STEM job with a manufacturing company like ours, making Brawny stronger.

#StrengthHasNoGender is part of the evolution in the way we talk about our brand: that strength goes way beyond paper towels. Overall, we hope the campaign and packaging change promotes a conversation about what it means to be strong and resilient. We hope women and girls everywhere are inspired to pursue their dreams no matter what obstacles they face. And finally, we hope that one day, the notion that Strength Has No Gender will be universal – understood and accepted by everyone.

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Opportunity

How A Promise to Military Families Eased the Stress of Change

When my wife received her transfer orders, we prepared ourselves for the Army to move us from Wichita, Kansas to Joplin, Missouri.

Once again, we were off to a new-to-us destination. The life of a military family is not for those who don’t like change. So much of life is built around constants, yet in a military life, change is one of those constants.

I admire my wife for her devotion to our family and to our country. I get it. I really do. I served from 1992-2006 in the U.S. Marine Corps, and my wife has served in the U.S. Army since 2000. Both of us spent time overseas with Operation Iraqi Freedom. And while I chose to transition to civilian life a few years ago, my wife stayed the course and built a career with the Army.

Most don’t think about the toll transfers take on military families; when one serves, we all serve. Being at the military’s beck and call is something we are used to. We know what we signed up for. While I’m not complaining about this life of service, trying to quickly find a new job when your spouse is transferred can be challenging and stressful.

But there was something different this time – something that made our family’s latest transfer experience better than it has ever been before.

As an asset protection manager at store 3492 in Wichita, Kansas, I wasn’t familiar with Walmart’s Military Family Promise (MFP) program until I spoke to a friend who worked at the home office. The MFP program guarantees a job at a nearby store or club for all military personnel and military spouses employed at Walmart or Sam’s Club who move to a different part of the country because they or their spouse have been transferred by the U.S. military.

I didn’t go into the MFP process with any preconceived notions. I knew I might not get the exact job I wanted unless something opened up. And, while I would’ve been thankful for any opportunity, I was fortunate enough to land the exact same position I had in Wichita at a Neighborhood Market in Joplin, Missouri, just a few miles away from where my wife is serving.

I knew Walmart cared about veterans and was familiar with our Veterans Welcome Home Commitment. But I had no idea we had policies in place to support me, a military spouse. The MFP allows me to focus on what’s most important during this transition – and that’s getting my house in order and getting my kids acclimated to their new surroundings.

I’m also taking time to share my story so other military family associates can take advantage of MFP and focus on what’s important in their lives during their own moves. Thanks to programs like these, we don’t just have jobs at Walmart, we have careers.

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Innovation

A Look Inside Walmart's Next-Gen Test Stores

The world is navigating a cultural revolution into the digital age.

Meeting customers’ needs is critical as they adopt more digitally-driven lifestyles, expectations increase and increasingly shopping options do not require a trip inside a store.

With this in mind, Walmart is testing new approaches in two recently opened supercenters in Tomball, Texas, and Lake Nona, Florida. These stores were fully reimagined from a new layout to building and environmental enhancements to added technology that all improve the shopping experience.

Keep reading to learn more about these new retail environments. Or, if you’re in the area, drop by and look for yourself.

New Layout
We started with customer shopping behavior to reimagine the layout for these two stores. For example, services like the beauty salon and tech repair are adjacent to relevant merchandise. Health and wellness departments are consolidated to create a single destination. Baby, toys, kids' apparel and kids' shoes form a single destination to ease mom’s shopping journey.


Scan & Go
Speeding up checkout is critical to improving customer experience. So we’re testing Scan & Go technology that works both on personal smartphones and Walmart-provided handheld devices. Customers are greeted on their way into the store by a large bank of these Scan & Go wands, and new digital produce scales have been added to make scanning weighable items much easier. The Scan & Go fast pass checkout lanes allow customers to bypass the traditional checkout process, which makes a quick trip faster than ever.


SmartLife
New interactive projection technology allows customers to learn about connected devices (think Google Home, Apple TV, Nest, baby monitors and connected thermostats) and get answers to what is important to them. Since images are projected onto tables and walls, there’s no chance of accidentally damaging a product, and the product details can be updated more quickly through this new platform. This technology is found in the entertainment section of the store, as well as in hardware, baby, and health and wellness for relevant department items.


Integrated Pickup
Shoppers can use the outside drive-thru to pick up not just their weekly groceries, but also their prescriptions and Walmart.com orders.


Extended Aisles
Step into the Tomball Supercenter and you’ll find interactive screens offering access to an extended curated selection of online-only items in almost 100 categories. Customers can order products, pay with the rest of their basket at checkout and pick up two days later.


Appointment Setting and Ordering Technology
Need your deli order, fast? These stores test a new appointment and ordering kiosk system where you place your order, go shopping, then come back to quickly pick it up. If the initial test in the deli area goes well, it could be expanded to pharmacy, Auto Care Center, beauty salon or anywhere ordering and appointment setting occurs.


Next-Gen Call Buttons
Shoppers simply press a Wi-Fi-connected call button and wearable GPS-enabled devices alert associates that assistance is needed. Associates wearing these devices are trained in specific store areas and are on call to help in the furniture, paint, fabrics, sporting goods and bikes areas of the store.

So what’s the bottom line? By rethinking stores and testing new ideas with customers in real-life stores, we are improving customers’ experiences and making it easier than ever for them to get what they need as quickly and easily as possible.

Editor’s Note: You can learn more about Walmart’s in-store tests in this piece from Good Morning America.

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