Hurricane Katrina Defining Moment In Wal-Mart Giving

Because Wal-Mart knows its customers, the giant corporation also had a good idea of what those customers would most need after everything they owned had been stripped away from them.

Water. Food. Medicine. Toilet tissue. Diapers. Clean underwear. Toothbrushes.

Because Wal-Mart is a master of logistics it got those items and more to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit this country. And Wal-Mart got those goods to the people of the devastated Gulf Coast faster than did the government of the United States.

As the Washington Post noted in a Sept. 6, 2005, article:

“During a tearful interview on ‘Meet the Press’ on Sunday, Aaron F. Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish in the New Orleans suburbs, told host Tim Russert that if ‘the American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn’t be in this crisis.’”

That same article indicated that the business world had also noticed:

“‘Wal-Mart has raised the ante for every company in the country,’ said Adam Hanft, chief executive of Hanft Unlimited Inc., a New York branding and marketing firm. ‘This is going to change the face of corporate giving.’”

The Walton Family Foundation gave $8 million to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund in third-quarter 2005, according to the Million Dollar List, a website run by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. In 2006, the foundation donated another $8 million to the fund for a total of $16 million, more than any other donor, though Walgreens was right behind at $15 million.

Wal-Mart has plenty of critics, but few had anything but praise for the behemoth’s response to what was for many the soul-shattering experience of Katrina. The August 2005 hurricane was responsible for an estimated 1,200 deaths, according to the National Hurricane Center, though almost seven years on, the actual death toll remains debated.

On Wal-Mart’s website, a couple of weeks after Katrina, the company said that in addition to the cash contributions to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund to help in emergency relief, the company had:

• Given $1 million each to the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.

• Provided $3 million worth of merchandise and in-kind donations throughout Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas to shelters and command centers.

• Provided more than $9.2 million in cash assistance to Wal-Mart workers affected by the hurricane through Wal-Mart’s Associate Disaster Relief Fund.

• Given $20,000 in cash to animal shelters and organizations taking in lost animals in hurricane-affected areas.

• Raised more than $7 million in contributions from customers at its 3,800 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations.

• Dispatched 2,450 Wal-Mart truckloads to communities throughout the Gulf States and Texas, including 100 truckloads of donated merchandise.

• Provided drivers and trucks to deliver relief supplies, water, food and clothing donated by outside community members and organizations.

• Allowed people to post pictures of friends and loved ones at Wal-Mart Photo Centers and Walmart.com to help find the missing.

As one Katrina survivor told National Public Radio: “God bless Wal-Mart and Sam’s.”