Huh? Walmart Foundation Battles Hunger As Walmart Workers Turn to Food Stamps

The Walmart Foundation does some good things, and we've written lately about how this funder is getting more innovative in its grantmakingin part because it's been led by sophisticated outside leaders, in contrast to the number of corporate foundations run by unimaginative company lifers. 

Related: The Walmart Foundation Is Getting More Interesting, With Big Giving for Career Readiness

While we've focused mainly on the foundation's grantmaking for higher ed, its giving to reduce hunger has also recently caught our attention. 

In 2010, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation launched "Fighting Hunger Together", with a pledge to channel $2 billion in cash and in-kind contributions to reduce hunger through 2015. This year, it announced that it had hit $2.6 billion in assistance, exceeding its goal one year early. Lots of money is still going out the door, with the foundation making new grants all the time to an array of groups battling hunger.

Last month, the foundation launched a new campaign, "Fight Hunger, Spark Change," that asks people to vote for which local food banks it should donate funds to.

All this is ironic to say the least, given the food security challenges of Walmart's own huge labor force, many of whom don't earn much more than the minimum wage. 

It's been widely documented that Walmart workers routinely face food insecurity. Things are bad enough that one Walmart in Ohio held a food drive last Thanksgiving for its own employees.

One estimate found that 15 percent of Walmart's workers in Ohio use food stamps, while an analysis by American Public Media has estimated that reliance on food stamps by Walmart workers nationwide costs federal taxpayers around $300 million a year. 

Slate did a great story earlier this year looking at some of the Walmart workers who use food stamps, often spending that aid at Walmart itself, buying groceries after their shifts using their EBT cards. 

It's not just food stamps that enable Walmart workers to surive. The Earned Income Tax Credit is even more important, along with Medicaid. study last year by the staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce found that a single 300-employee Walmart Supercenter may cost taxpayers between $904,542 to nearly $1.75 million a year in various subsidies.

In other words, Walmart's low-road business model (which has enabled the Walton family to pile up a net worth of over $150 billion) is made by possible in part because the rest of us take care of its impoverished workers. The same goes for similar retail companies like Target and for many fast food restaurant chains. 

And while it's hard to say an unkind word about a foundation that is giving big to battle hunger in America, the Walmart Foundation's role in bringing good press to Walmart on this issue is very disturbing. We write often about the shameless contradictions of corporate philanthropy, with grant dollars cleaning up the messes created by parent companies (and distracting attention from those messes). But this one takes the cake.

The Walmart Foundation is doing a good job of getting thousands of people to vote for donations to their local food banks as part of its "Fight Hunger, Spark Change" campaign. But here's an obvious question: Just what kind of change is sparked by feeding hungry people while the root causes of their hunger goes unaddressed?