Health & Wellness

How We’re Fighting Food Deserts

You may have heard the term “food desert” before, but what does it really mean? Well, it’s sort of what it sounds like — an area, in urban or rural settings where access to affordable and nutritious food is limited. Instead of grocery stores with fresh fruit and vegetables, the landscape is often limited to convenience stores and fast food restaurants.  

People who live in areas without access to affordable, healthy food often suffer from a number of nutrition related health problems including obesity, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. So it’s no surprise that helping close the access gap has been a big part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move!  program designed to help fight childhood obesity and help Americans get healthy.

As the country’s largest retailer of groceries, Walmart has a role to play in helping improve access to affordable healthy food. In July 2012, we joined the First Lady and the Let’s Move! initiative by committing to open 275 to 300 new stores in areas that serve food deserts by 2016. When the U.S. Census showed an increase in areas that fall into the food desert category, we opened 224 stores across the country in areas that serve those food deserts, including states where it’s a big problem like my home state of Texas (27 stores), California (18 stores), and Colorado (12 stores). Of those, 48 were opened in fiscal year 2012, 80 in fiscal year 2013, and 96 in fiscal year 2014.

This is a commitment we take very seriously at Walmart. From the beginning we’ve always said that a customer shouldn’t have to choose between a food that is healthier for them and a food they can afford.  Families should have reasonable access to a store that provides healthy choices and helps that family live better.  I’m proud to say that we are doing our small part to bring better options to families to urban and rural areas across the country.  

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Opportunity

Seeing Through my Blindness to a Future at Walmart

That’s a line from one of my poems – I’ve been writing inspirational poetry most of my life. I’ve tried to live by the truth in those words ever since I was a young child who loved to ride bikes and had dreams of growing up to be a football player.

When I was five years old, I was confronted with a very real and dangerous enemy – a brain tumor that was pressing on my optic nerve. Doctors successfully removed the tumor – likely saving my life – however, when I woke it was to a world of blindness.

That tumor might have gotten to my sight but it didn’t get my spirit, and it hasn’t stopped me from dreaming. I still get to ride bikes – I live out in the country where I can ride freely – and I shifted from a dream of football to the reality of playing baseball.

Beep baseball, that is.

In beep baseball we use a ball that beeps so you know where to swing and where to track to catch. The game also has beeping bases so you know where to run and throw. I play outfield, and I’m pretty good, and so is my team, the Tyler Tigers. In fact, we’ve traveled to places like Georgia and Minnesota for the beep baseball championships.

John Geeter grabs a gallon of milk from a shelf in a Walmart dairy department back room

Today I’m working on a new dream – to grow in my career at Walmart. About 18 months ago I started in a training program with Goodwill that helped me develop key retail skills. The training included an on-the-job assignment in the produce department at my local Walmart store in Tyler, Texas.

After proving myself in the Goodwill program, I got an interview with Walmart, and they hired me on as a permanent associate – I celebrated my one-year anniversary in February – and now I work in the dairy department. I used Braille labels on signs when I first started at Walmart so I’d know where everything was supposed to go; however, I’ve learned my department so well I don’t even need the Braille signage anymore. If a customer asks me where to find the butter or milk, I can take her right to it.

John Geeter is wearing a Walmart navy vest and is smiling in front of the dairy department

I like working for Walmart – they saw how hard I worked while in the Goodwill program and they worked with me to find a place where I could fit. The thing I like most is working around other people and helping my fellow associates get acclimated to working with a person with a disability. The next step for me is to work with department managers and other leaders in my store to determine what I need to learn in order to pursue growth opportunities with Walmart.

I tell everybody that I look at each day as a challenge. I’m ready to take that challenge head on because I want more for myself and those who come behind me – I want to leave a legacy that other people with disabilities can follow.

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Health & Wellness

Fresh, Fast and Fun: Stay on Track with Produce Hacks

As the freshness of a new year wears away, so can those changes we laid out for our diets. No one wants to eat healthy food if it doesn’t taste good. And sometimes throwing together a salad for tomorrow’s lunch is the last thing we want to do at the end of a long day.

But when we take a look at food trends and what our customers are buying, we see a couple of things that help keep the diet momentum going: easy options that free up time, and, when there’s a few extra minutes to make cooking fun, new ways of giving healthier selections a gourmet touch.

With that in mind, here are some choices that are gaining steam – and you can work them into your routine simply by spending a few extra minutes in the produce section.

Brussels sprouts. Strong in flavor and smell, Brussels sprouts have long been that vegetable many people love to hate. But sales of Brussels sprouts are growing for retailers as customers are drawn to new ways of preparing them. Roasting or grilling and adding a pop of flavor like balsamic vinegar or garlic makes them seem decadent.

RecipeCards_Brussel Sprouts w Yogurt Drizzle
Spaghetti squash or spiral-cut zucchini. Have you ever heard of a zoodle? If you got a spiral slicer as a holiday gift, you’re probably aware that zucchini is becoming increasingly popular as a pasta replacement. Spaghetti squash, too, is a delicious alternative to dishes that call for noodles.

Cauliflower. From pizza crust to a mashed potato stand-in, cauliflower is growing out of its standing as a bland, forgotten salad ingredient. If you’d rather not use it in place of one of these carbs, try cutting a head of it into large slices and grilling it like a steak.

Chopped salad. When you don’t have a huge lettuce leaf to chase around your plate or, later, shove awkwardly in your mouth, a salad becomes much easier to eat. Imagine everything you’d want in a salad, processed in a chopper – that’s a chopped salad. It’s simple to make and store in the fridge, and we’re seeing customers prepare more of them.

RecipeCards_Convenient Chopped Salad

Salad kits and bowls. If you spend any time on Pinterest, you’ve probably seen the Mason jar salad concept. Here’s how our customers are eating healthier and saving more time: Purchasing single-serve ready-to-eat salad bowls, which include a protein, the dressing and a disposable fork. Also popular are salad kits, which have everything in the bag except a main protein. Just shake into a bowl and you’ve got a fresh side dish for the whole family.

Premium juice. If you don’t have a juicer – or the time to use one – you’ll find prepared juices right next to the produce in select Walmart stores. These aren’t the fruit cocktail variety (mixed juices are available in the dairy department) but instead are very pure, unprocessed and premium in nature.

Kale. This leafy green has been surging in popularity for a few years now, and it’s not going away. A few years ago you’d find just a couple of kale options in our stores; today we offer it in salad blends, plus readymade kale chips, dips and more. It’s a super food that’s also super versatile.

RecipeCards_Crunchy Kale Salad

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Community

Among the Essentials, a Delivery of Hope

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, David Simmons’ first thought wasn’t the minor damage to his home in Mississippi. It was calling the Walmart dispatch station to see how he could help through his job as a truck driver.

He was sure there was plenty of emergency freight that had to be delivered, but that wasn’t a request he was met with on the other end of the line. The operator instead asked how his family fared in the storm, and told him to stay home and take care of his property as there were drivers coming from all over to assist with the recovery.

Later, he did get a chance to help – hauling donated merchandise for the Salvation Army – and says that it remains to this day one of the most fulfilling moments of his driving career.

“From food, clothing and water to even roofing materials, it was all needed and appreciated by the residents of the Gulf Coast,” David said.

Rickey Oliver, too, remembers Katrina as a moment he was proud to work for Walmart. One of the drivers who participated in a convoy of trucks that waited to enter one of the most heavily damaged areas of New Orleans, Rickey thought for a moment that the abandoned-looking area around him was actually empty. 

A man proudly holds a 2005 image of Walmart trucks waiting to enter affected areas of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina

“To my amazement, like in the movie Field of Dreams they came, walking in from every street, every corner, out of buildings I thought for sure no one would be in. All hungry and thirsty and desperate for help, and we … were the help,” Rickey said. “I don’t think a person can truly express the feeling or the honor one receives in doing this kind of thing.”

Gary Mars, another Walmart driver who was part of that same convoy, feels the same way. Carrying water, generators, and food – plus ice, important during hot August weather in Louisiana – was a critical role to fill.

“I remember the sense of pride I felt as we convoyed into New Orleans and surrounding cities, as nearly every vehicle we met was waving at us as we passed, and several had makeshift signs saying, ‘Thank you, Walmart,’” Gary said. “I was relatively new to Walmart, but I knew at that point that this was a place to permanently call home. It’s amazing to me just how quick lives can change, just in a moment. It’s very humbling.” 

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Community

One Nurse, 16 Infants, and a Storm’s Ultimate Test

Medea Gabriel is not a hero, she insists.

During Hurricane Katrina, there were many others she believes are equally deserving of that title. Her fellow medical staff at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center who worked while separated from their families. Her best friend, Monique, who took Medea’s ailing mother to evacuate on her own. Also, the strangers she remembers driving their personal boats to pick up patients and staff from the hospital and navigate them to dry land.

But as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit, Medea helped wrap up 16 babies and move them to shelter through a hole in the wall that led to a truck bed. The truck bed was to take them to a helicopter and then, safety, but once Medea passed each infant through the wall, she had no idea if outside realities would let that happen.

Today, she knows that nearly all of those babies somehow survived on the way to their destination, Baton Rouge Women’s Hospital. While one of them did pass away, she doesn’t know how or when, because that hospital has since closed. She recently got a Facebook message from one of the mothers who wanted to thank her for what she did that day.

“It was surreal to know how much I impacted her life and that she remembered me,” Medea said. “Just knowing that these kids are now 10 years old lets me go on.”

Photo shows the inside of a neonatal intensive care unit

When Medea transported those infants that day, she says she was simply doing her job. Once the job was complete, she turned her full attention toward her mother, whom she sent with her best friend to get on a boat to safety. She had to pack up her mother’s medicine, waterproof her medical records and dosage instructions and staple them to the inside of her mother’s clothes so they didn’t get lost. She then sent her two loved ones off to stay with a college roommate whom she believed in her heart would take them in, but she didn’t know for sure. It was the second big moment that day where she had to simply act.

Thankfully, two days later – after Medea herself had to leave the hospital not knowing her next resting place – she found out that her mother was, in fact, alive.

While many things have changed for Medea since then, like a new job and also a new husband, she has returned home to New Orleans and works with pediatric patients once again, this time doing HIV research.

“I’m in a totally different place than I was before Katrina,” she said. “I’ve found peace and joy in this recovery.”

Editor’s Note: You can hear more of Medea’s story in a four-part podcast created by Good360, a disaster relief organization that works to improve the way communities can connect with much-needed supplies.    

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