As Food Banks Struggle, Sam's Club Restores Food Donations

Sam's Club, the membership warehouse subsidiary of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is reviving food donations to local food pantries two years after halting the practice in favor of giving cash, the world's largest retailer said Wednesday.

Sam's Club said a pilot program in St. Louis will be rolled out to about 560 of its 593 U.S. stores by late summer in coordination with America's Second Harvest, the largest national food bank organization.

Wal-Mart's charitable giving arm, the Wal-Mart Foundation, also announced a $1.5 million donation to America's Second Harvest that the foundation said will provide about 16 million meals "as food prices continue to rise and hunger relief organizations nationwide struggle to meet higher demands."

The new food program at Sam's Club will provide donations of bakery products, meats and deli products that are approaching their sell-by dates to local food pantries affiliated with America's Second Harvest, said Wal-Mart spokesman Bill Wertz.

Lenora Young, director of product sourcing for the St. Louis Area Foodbank, said the Sam's Club donations have increased the amount of meat it can provide to 500 area food pantries and shelters by 35 percent.

Wal-Mart announced in January 2006 that it was stopping perishable food donations by individual Sam's Clubs and Wal-Mart stores, partly out of concern for food safety.

But Wertz said the new program with America's Second Harvest ensures that food, including meats and cheese, are picked up and stored in an appropriate way, including being refrigerated.

Wal-Mart has remained a large cash donor to America's Second Harvest. The retailer gave the food group $5 million last year

Wertz said the St. Louis pilot project started in March and involved nine Sam's Club stores in the area that together provided about 9,000 pounds a week of food. He said the totals at new stores will vary depending on store size and the pace of sales of food items.

Wal-Mart stores are working on a similar pilot project in Fort Smith, Ark., also with America's Second Harvest. Wertz said no announcement has been made yet about expanding that program.