April 5, 2021
By Kathleen McLaughlin, Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Walmart Inc.; President, Walmart Foundation
Central to our mission at Walmart is helping people live better. That’s not just a statement – it’s a goal we work toward every day on behalf of our customers, members and communities. Helping people live better includes ensuring they have access to nutritious food, and for many people, that’s been a struggle this year.
As COVID-19 continues to impact communities, keeping some schools and businesses closed, and many employees furloughed, one issue is coming to the forefront: food insecurity.
For the eighth year, we’re partnering with Feeding America®, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization and nationwide network of 200 local food banks, through the Fight Hunger. Spark Change. campaign. It’s one way we support local food banks and help fight food insecurity – assisting local food banks in providing nutritious food to help people in their communities live a healthy life. But like so many things lately, this year’s campaign is different.
Before COVID-19 hit, Walmart and Sam’s Club were working with Feeding America to make strides in closing the gap on hunger. But the pandemic changed the equation.
To gain a better understanding of the extent of the need, I sat down with Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, the CEO of Feeding America and former Walmart executive, to talk about this and the value of our ongoing partnership.
The Need: Greater Than Ever
Kathleen: Prior to the pandemic, 35 million people faced hunger, according to the USDA. Now, millions more people have struggled to put food on their table. Feeding America estimates that 42 million people may face hunger, including 1 in 6 children. A near perfect storm of circumstance has driven up need and likely wiped out any progress made to food insecurity in the United States. What are you seeing?
Claire: One thing we know for certain is that the people who are hit the hardest are often the least able to weather the storm. People have lost their jobs because their place of employment closed, or because they had to care for a loved one or were even sick themselves. And as schools went virtual, the kids who received breakfast and lunch at school are eating at home, so the burden of buying food is now put on parents who don’t always have the means. This huge shift in food access, combined with loss of income, has caused some people to seek out their local food banks and pantries for the first time. In fact, our food banks report that they are still serving an average of 55% more people than before the pandemic.
After the Great Recession, it took 10 years for food insecurity to return to pre-recession levels. We anticipate that it will take years for people to recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Kathleen: We see that, too – as the pandemic continues, people have turned their attention toward local food banks, many of which are struggling to keep up with demand. That’s part of why we’re kicking off the year’s campaign with a $3 million grant to help support local neighborhoods. More than $2 million of this grant will support select food banks in communities with greatest need. It’s a start toward helping them help as many people as possible.
The Partnership: Sparking Change
Kathleen: Walmart and Sam’s Club have long-encouraged associates and our customers and members to help fight hunger and spark change in their communities. But this year’s campaign really is different – because the need is so great. In the time we’ve been partnering with Feeding America, we’ve seen the program grow and change. How do you view the value of our partnership, and its unique history?
Claire: Walmart’s partnership has been invaluable to the Feeding America network and was a catalyst for the growth the organization has made over the past 15 years. Walmart and Sam’s Club’s large network of stores, clubs and distribution centers complements the presence of Feeding America network food banks in communities nationwide – it’s the world’s largest grocer partnering with the nation’s largest network of food banks. We’ve learned a lot from each other, and together we innovate and execute on these learnings to find more efficient and impactful ways to connect people with nutritious food. Fight Hunger. Spark Change. is the result of us listening and learning together on the needs of the food banks and the needs of the communities.
Kathleen: So, as we continue to listen and learn in our own communities, do you think we can get back to where we were before the pandemic in terms of closing the gap on hunger?
Claire: It can be done, but that would still mean 35 million people in this country would not have consistent access to nutritious food. That wasn’t acceptable before the pandemic and it isn’t acceptable now. It’s going to take all of us working together to end hunger. We as a nation have the collective power to help people become more food secure. It will take all of us working together—partners like Walmart and Sam’s Club, supplier partners, food banks and pantries, community members, government, food manufacturers and farmers—to make a meaningful, positive impact for people facing hunger.