Community

Special delivery for Meals on Wheels

Last Thursday, Margaret Popko opened her front door to receive her lunch. But it wasn’t a normal delivery, just like Margaret isn’t a normal Meals On Wheels recipient.

Jimmy Carter was president, Laverne & Shirley was the most watched television show and Star Wars was the nation’s biggest film when Margaret first volunteered for the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania.

She spent 36 years in a small church kitchen in Clairton, about 30 minutes south of Pittsburgh. Like all of our volunteers, Margaret wanted to lend a hand to people in the community who aren’t able to grocery shop or cook for themselves.

A few months ago, she was no longer able to make it into the kitchen on a regular basis. At age 95, she joined the nearly 1,000 individuals who receive a meal from us every day.

But there was a problem: our Meals On Wheels kitchen was short on wheels.

Individual volunteers had to use their own cars to transport food from the nearby food bank to our kitchens, and from our kitchen to hundreds of homes throughout the region. It limited how many people like Margaret we were able to serve.

We needed help. Se we applied for a grant through the Walmart Foundation. A few months later, as part of Walmart’s $2 billion commitment to end hunger in the United States, the Foundation awarded us a $65,000 grant to purchase a delivery vehicle.

We officially unveiled the new van on Thursday. Several Walmart associates helped in the kitchen earlier that day.

The decision of who should receive the inaugural meal was an easy one.  

Store Manager Ed Protiva from the nearby Walmart greeted Margaret at her door. Our brand new van was parked on the street outside.

“That should make things easier!” Margaret said. “It looks good.”

From Clairton the van went on to deliver food for individuals in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Mercer counties.

A single meal may not seem like much, but each and every delivery we make is a connection, a conversation, and a helping hand that people depend on. Walmart’s dedication to our community makes a big difference to us, and makes it possible for use to serve more people like Margaret.


Patty Davidson is the Chief Development Officer of the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pa. To learn more about LSSWPA or to volunteer for the Meals On Wheels program, please visit http://www.lsswpa.org/.

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Life

From Lanterns to Lions, Ringing in Chinese New Year

Feb. 8 marks the start of Chinese New Year, China’s most important celebration for families. Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is a weeklong public holiday during which families celebrate a year of hard work and wish for good luck in the coming year.

Those shopping in our stores in China see lots of Chinese New Year decorations and traditional foods stocked for this busy time. For readers who aren’t in China, here’s some background on the celebrations.

Traditional Family Meals

Before the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar, people all over China travel to their hometowns to unite with their families and decorate their homes in red — a color that symbolizes good luck and joy — and prepare for Chinese New Year celebrations. The night before the Chinese New Year, we prepare a feast made up of symbolic foods:

  • In Chinese culture, a fish course represents wealth in the future, while peanuts signify longevity and good health.
  • Some food symbolism in Chinese New Year dishes is more visual, such as hot pot, which involves simmering meat and vegetables in a round pot at the center of the table. The shape of the pot represents perfection and satisfaction.
  • Dumplings are an example of a food with a more historical tie because they resemble the gold currency — Yuanbao — used in ancient China. Today, dumplings are still thought to signify wealth in the coming year and are a delicious treat stuffed with different fillings.

Celebrations

Like with New Year’s Eve in the U.S. and other western countries, Chinese New Year involves staying up late. We light firecrackers at midnight, a tradition that dates back to ancient folklore. Though the New Year is a cause for celebration now, legend has it that Chinese villagers used to stoke their fires with bamboo to keep away a terrifying, sharp-toothed monster that arose from the sea at the end of the lunar year to prey on people and livestock. Now, we use firecrackers to celebrate the new year and also scare off any bad luck that might be on the horizon.

Celebrations culminate in the Lantern Festival, where people gather to admire the illuminated lanterns (some floating, some carried by children, some fixed as decorations) and guess riddles written on them. On New Year’s Day, people also watch lion dances, in which participants don elaborate, mythical lion costumes that seem larger than life — and eat rice dumplings.

One of our family traditions is for children and grandchildren to wish elders in the family good wishes for the new year and, in turn, the elders will give children a red envelope of money for good luck and to buy toys and books.  Children often sleep with the red envelope under the pillow to bring good luck throughout the year.

The Year of the Monkey

This year is the year of the monkey, the ninth of 12 animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. People born in the year of the monkey are believed to be energetic, witty and mischievous. I look forward to greeting the year of the monkey surrounded by my family and enjoying the snacks and festivities that come with the celebrations. No matter your Chinese zodiac, may the New Year bring good fortune to you and your family!

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Community

How Associates Are Helping with Relief in Flint

This week, Walmart joined with Coca-Cola, Nestle and PepsiCo to provide clean water to more than 10,000 public school students in Flint, Michigan. But months before, many local associates were already jumping in to help. Recently, we learned more about how from Beth Harris, store manager at Walmart #1928 in Flint, and Melton Wright, co-manager at store #3726 in Grand Blanc, Michigan, a community less than 10 miles away.

How have you seen this crisis affect your store, and why was it important to your team to take action?

Beth Harris: Right from the beginning, we’ve had an increase in associates and customers who’ve needed quality water, affordable water and affordable ways to filter their water. We thought it was important for them to know they had someone they could trust to take care of their needs. Our associates are proud to be a part of the effort to help our friends and neighbors.

Your store has stepped in not only with water distribution, but also with educating people on water filters and proper use. Can you tell us more?

Beth Harris: One of the steps we took was to educate ourselves so we could spread that knowledge. Many questions were coming in, so we did do some additional training for our associates, and our pharmacy and hardware department so we could pass that along to the customers.

Melton Wright: Here in the Flint store, they’ve been training their associates to know how the water filters work, how to set them up in your homes, how to hook them up to the faucets, and so that education is being given to the customer as they come in. That’s a huge impact because up until this point, who really used water filters in that respect? What I mean is that there have always been families who bought them because they wanted them as added features in their homes, but here, it’s really a necessity. Being able to help folks in that respect is a huge step, and Walmart is a big part of that.

You’re both obviously local residents. Can you tell us how this crisis has affected you personally?

Melton Wright: I’m a Flint resident and have been for most of my life. I know the city has gone through a number of different transformations, but this one here really tops it all in the sense that it’s impacting households. People used to just walk up to their sinks and pour water out, but now you have the issue of not knowing whether it’s going to affect you unfavorably. So that impact is a personal one. The positive piece of that is that you have organizations like Walmart stepping in to help with the situation. So I feel good about that, but day in and day out, dealing with the water is definitely a big issue.

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Sustainability

Hold the Salt: A Story of Reformulating Food

Big change is coming to the grocery aisles.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has mandated that partially hydrogenated oils – most commonly found in industrially produced fats and oils – be eliminated as a food ingredient by June 2018. Research clearly shows a link between trans fats and cardiovascular disease. So a timetable has been set to take action.

A big reason why I work for Walmart is that we’re constantly looking for ways we can help people live better – oftentimes, before federal mandates like these are handed down. In fact, by the end of this month, we anticipate having successfully removed all partially hydrogenated oils from Walmart private brand food – such as Great Value – sold in our U.S. stores, a goal we’ve been working toward since 2011. But we’re not stopping there.

Simultaneously, we’ve been working to reduce sodium in Walmart’s private brand foods and national brand food products by 25% and added sugars by 10% by the end of December 2015. We’ve long since surpassed our sugar-related reformulation goal. And, while we’re tracking about 5% behind our sodium reduction goal – results through December 2015 are being vetted and will be announced publicly this spring – we continue to work toward completion and are proud of the precedent we're setting across the grocery industry.

There have been some big wins along the way to help us move the needle. One example was when we set out to reduce sodium in all varieties of Great Value Potato Chips and Great Value Kettle Cooked Chips. We successfully removed a combined 30 tons of sodium from 36 million bags of chips annually. And, according to test data, we did so without compromising taste. To put that into perspective, 30 tons is equivalent to an entire Walmart truck (cab and trailer) or about 70 Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

In the end, every slice of progress in the reformulation of the thousands of private and national brand food items Walmart sells contributes to a healthier tomorrow for our customers. But the reality is, you can’t simply go out and turn the dial down on sodium, sugar and trans fats and say, ‘We’re there. We did it.’ Our palates are accustomed to certain tastes, so the key is taking small, incremental steps toward long-term change. You're basically giving consumers’ palates a chance to adjust rather than shocking them all at once.

Every step forward involves extensive time, testing, evaluation and more. Many of the wins we’re realizing today are several years in the making – and, in most cases, there was no road map for how to get there. As senior director of private brand food initiatives, I’ve been deeply entrenched in helping develop a road map. We recognized, for example, that the majority of sodium in the diet of the average American comes from processed foods. So we’ve focused our efforts on the 47 most popular processed food categories, which include such examples as cheeses, cereal, crackers, canned tomatoes and more.

One interesting discovery along the way was that the sodium within the recipes of our own Great Value breads varied from one production facility to another. So by working with each facility to understand needs and challenges, we were able to develop a standardized process that, in turn, helped produce long-term results in sodium reduction. There are a variety of hurdles and challenges to reformulation work within private brands, and there is the potential for even more with national brands. But we’ve already proven that, with a relentless work ethic, real progress can be made in the areas of sodium, sugar and trans fat reformulation. We continue to identify and zero in on additional opportunities.

There was a day when all of this seemed so overwhelming. But we’re creating a road map. We’re building best practices. We’re growing relationships, learning from our experiences and helping to influence a healthier tomorrow. 

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Opportunity

Path from Army to NASA Leads to Walmart

I can still remember how the walls shook each time one of the space shuttles launched. Even though the launch pad was seven miles away, everything around me shook like an earthquake.

As a satellite engineer, I got to be close to the action. I had a lot of great experiences during my 13 years with NASA. I worked as a satellite controller – including the Hubble – and even built and tested rocket launching systems. It’s something I will never forget!

When my shuttle site was deactivated in 2012, that left me needing to find another job. I ended up moving from Florida to Wyoming to work as an engineer for a satellite TV company for a year. After experiencing a harsh winter and a nearly fatal car accident, I was ready to move back. 

I was excited to be coming back to what I considered my home state. I wasn’t born there, but Florida felt like home from the instant I arrived. It’s also where I wanted to start life with my soon-to-be husband. It was easy to make the decision to move back, but what I didn’t expect was how hard it would be to start a brand-new career there. 

I was very fortunate to have had a solid work history and had even spent eight years in the Army supporting communications for the Pentagon and the White House. I thought I had a great background that would help me easily find a new career, but I was trying to find a new job right when unemployment was high. It was hard for everyone to find work. I went on interview after interview, a lot of them hourly jobs, each one telling me that I was overqualified. What none of them understood was how badly I wanted to work and contribute to something bigger. It was hard being without a job and to be continually told no.

I applied at Walmart, but expected the same answer. It was an hourly job in a store – there was no way they’d tell me yes when so many others had said no. I’m so glad they proved me wrong.

Because Walmart gave me a chance, I can make Florida my permanent home and build a life here. They knew that the leadership and problem-solving skills I’d learned in the Army and at NASA would help me be a great associate. My experiences taught me how to manage people well and get them focused on the task at hand. And being in the Army taught me how to take the resources I had, analyze the situation and create quick and efficient solutions. All of these things really help you when working in a store.

I was hired as an electronics associate at store 1172 in Jacksonville, Florida. It was challenging and fast-paced. I loved helping people and I brought that attitude to work with me every day. After only a year, I was promoted to Homelines department manager. I’ve been with Walmart for just over two years now. I tell every associate that if you work hard, are conscientious, use initiative and quickly take care of the problems you see – you’ll be recognized. I only see opportunity here – there’s no limit to where you can go. What’s my next step? I love people and leading teams, so I hope to work my way up to be an assistant store manager soon.

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