Wal-Mart increases aid for hungry

Through a partnership with the nation’s largest network of food banks, Wal-Mart is boosting its donated food and cash in an effort to feed more hungry Americans.

By 2009, the retailer plans to donate enough food annually to provide 70 million meals through Feeding America, formerly America’s Second Harvest. Those in-kind donations will include produce, meats and other groceries.

A $2.5 million cash contribution will be used to boost Feeding America’s warehouse capacity and purchase 20 refrigerated trucks that will move food from Wal-Mart stores to food pantries and soup kitchens.

The donations come at a critical time, with virtually all the food banks in Feeding America’s network reporting an average increase in demand of about 20 percent over the past year.

Some have seen requests for food climb 50 percent in the last 12 months.

“Given the current state of the economy and the increased burden on neighborhood food pantries and soup kitchens, we are enlisting our entire network of stores and clubs to participate in this food donation program to provide relief to communities throughout the country,” Bill Simon, the company’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, says in a statement.

The goal of the partnership is to connect Feeding America’s member food banks to all 2,724 Wal-Mart supercenters and neighborhood markets and its 594 Sam’s Clubs, allowing for transport of food from stores to food banks within 24 hours.

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