This article series is sponsored by Walmart and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.
Forty million Americans struggle with hunger, the same as the number of people officially living in poverty. One in every eight Americans are food insecure: That is, they live in a household with limited or uncertain access to enough food to support a healthy life. Households with children are more likely to be food insecure. In a country that is among the wealthiest in the world, but with a gaping income inequality, these figures are often surprising to many Americans.
The extent of hunger in America is no surprise to Matt Knott, president of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. With its network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, it provides hunger relief to more than 46 million Americans.
“No one is immune from hunger," Knott told TriplePundit. "It affects families and children, seniors, people in rural areas, and those in cities and suburbs. Hunger in America is an under-recognized and often misunderstood problem. Many people we support are working hard, they may even have a home, but with the rising cost of living and rising food prices, they are challenged in their ability to stretch their dollars to consistently and confidently put food on the table. They are forced to make tough choices between buying food and medical bills, food and rent, and/or food and transportation.”
Hunger hits certain communities harder. African-American households face hunger at a rate more than twice that of white, non-Hispanic households. One in six Latino families in the U.S. struggle with hunger, and one in four African-American and Latino children consistently struggle to get enough to eat. Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap research shows food insecurity rates by county and congressional district.
Feeding America has been grappling with America’s hunger crisis for more than 35 years. It has long depended on individual, foundation and corporate partners to help rise to the challenge. In that regard, its wide-ranging collaboration with Walmart and the Walmart Foundation has been “truly transformational,” Knott says, in working to support a sustainable food system that is affordable, healthier, safe and accessible to all.
The charitable food network is only as strong as its infrastructure, Knott says, and Walmart has “allowed us to significantly scale our efforts to secure surplus food that would otherwise go to waste.”
Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have invested over $100 million in Feeding America since 2005 to provide charitable meals, infrastructure and other programs. Additionally, over the years the Walmart Foundation has provided funding to help secure 245 vehicles and over 50 retail-store donation coordinators to manage and distribute donated food. Walmart also works to raise awareness of the issue of hunger by engaging its associates, suppliers and customers in cause marketing programs. In the U.S., Walmart stores and clubs teamed up with customers and participating suppliers to support Feeding America through its “Fight Hunger. Spark Change.” campaign, raising more than $75 million in funds in over the last five years.
“Walmart has fundamentally strengthened the infrastructure of the feeding apparatus in the U.S. with these hundreds of refrigerated trucks that help deliver fresh, nutritious food to our network,” Knott says, adding that the food donations, some 3.5 billion meals, “is absolutely incredible.”
What he appreciates, Knott explained, is that Walmart “brings all its assets to bear on the fight against hunger: Its associates, customers, suppliers as well as cause marketing to raise awareness and concentrate the power of those assets. Working closely with their leaders, we’ve been able come up with innovative ways to address hunger in America.”
Raising awareness is key. Many people, Knott says, would be shocked to learn that 40 percent of all food produced annually in the U.S. goes to waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. He points out that approximately 72 billion pounds of perfectly good food—from every point in the food production cycle—ends up in landfills and incinerators each year. Rescuing “this perfectly edible, whole food” means feeding millions of Americans as well as protecting the planet and conserving resources, he adds.
The refrigerated trucks have been a key element in the program, Knott says. “Our job is to capture nutritious food that would otherwise go to waste,” he says. “Having that temperature control allows us to move a lot more protein and dairy products and other perishables to communities that really need them, quickly. This is a capability we did not have at scale.”
Newer innovations to tackle hunger employ human-centered design principles and the latest technology to come up with more convenient and accessible ways to provide food to people in need. One example is the Feeding Florida: Food Access Map, a free mobile application designed to help users connect to their local food pantries, soup kitchens and farmer’s markets in the state of Florida. The application aims to help its users find food as well as locate where needs for food exist.
“We won’t transform how we do things overnight, but Walmart is supporting our ability to push the envelope in ways that fit people’s lives, and it is exciting to be able to test these ideas with Walmart,” Knott explains.
Based in southwest Florida, Amy has written about sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line for over 20 years, specializing in sustainability reporting, policy papers and research reports for multinational clients in pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, ICT, tourism and other sectors. She also writes for Ethical Corporation and is a contributor to Creating a Culture of Integrity: Business Ethics for the 21st Century. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.