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    Wal-Mart Going National with Food Donation Program

    Retailer says Sam's Club pilot program will be rolled out nationwide; Wal-Mart pilot program, already underway, will have even greater scale.

    Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is thinking even bigger for its food donations. It unveiled yesterday the start of a new national food donation program in more than 560 Sam's Clubs throughout the nation that would include the ability to provide bakery products and protein, including fresh meats and deli products, to members of America's Second Harvest -- The Nation's Food Bank Network.

    A pilot that has been in place since 2006 will begin to roll out to Wal-Mart supercenters in coming months, Wal-Mart said.

    Speaking at a news conference, Michael Gonce, market manager for Sam's Club, said that a pilot food donation program at Sam's Club in St. Louis and several other cities was being rapidly expanded in cooperation with America's Second Harvest. Gonce said the implementation timetable would depend in part on the readiness of local food banks to handle meat and deli donations, which require refrigerated transportation and storage.

    "Many of our food banks are ready today, and some are already receiving donations several times a week from Sam's Clubs," said Vicki Escarra, president and c.e.o. of America's Second Harvest. "The Sam's meat and deli donations are particularly important, because there is a pressing need for high quality protein in the diets of the clients we serve."

    Gonce said that donations would soon begin at some Wal-Mart supercenters. "A pilot program is in the early stages at Wal-Mart, and we plan to use the lessons we learn from the Sam's pilot to roll out an operational program in communities where Wal-Mart supercenters align with local foodbanks," he said.

    Estimates are that a combined Sam's and Wal-Mart donation program at the supercenter/club level could contribute more than 70 million pounds of food per year to U.S. food banks, according to Wal-Mart.

    In a separate announcement, Wal-Mart said that it was donating $1.5 million at the corporate level to America's Second Harvest with $500,000 allocated to support its "Backpack Program," which provides food on weekends and out-of-school periods for at-risk children.

    Since 2005, Wal-Mart and its customers have contributed more than $16 million to help feed the nation's hungry.

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