Wal-Mart defends food drive for employees, amid criticism

Walmart came under fire yesterday after a labor group posted an image showing a food drive for employees at an Oklahoma store. A Walmart spokeswoman responded that the retailer, which is frequently the subject of attack over its pay practices, never plans such events at the corporate level.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/File
Holding a sign, a man joins Walmart employees and supporters as they blocked off a major intersection near the Walton Family Foundation to stage a protest calling for $15 an hour and consistent full-time work in downtown Washington last month. Walmart came under fire this week after employees at one Oklahoma store held a food drive for co-workers.

Wal-Mart on Thursday came under fire from the Making Change at Walmart organization, after the labor group posted an image to its Facebook page showing a food drive for employees at an Oklahoma store.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Kayla Whaling quickly responded to the criticism, saying the drive was planned by one of the store's employees, who was collecting food for two co-workers who were on a leave of absence and unable to work.

Whaling added that Wal-Mart, which is frequently the subject of attack over its pay practices, never plans this type of event at the corporate level.

Dawnne Sulaitis, who has worked at Wal-Mart for 19 years, said she asked for permission to hold the food drive when she found out that two families would be down to one income over the holidays.

"It just really comes down to wanting to lend somebody a helping hand," Sulaitis said.

She added there are two medium-size boxes for donations in the store, and each is about three-quarters of the way full.

"It's been very well-received," Sulaitis said.

Wal-Mart came under similar criticism last year, when an employee held a food drive for one co-worker who had lost their home in a fire, and for another who had stopped receiving child support from her ex-husband.

"It's unfortunate that when a store in those situations, when they want to give back to the local community or to others that they work with based on maybe finding out that they aren't able to work…that they would be criticized for wanting to help," Whaling said.

As the nation's largest retailer, critics argue changes made at Wal-Mart will trickle to other retailers and help improve conditions for low-wage workers. That is one belief expressed by the Making Change at Walmart group.

However, they are not the only critic. On Thursday, public health attorney Michele Simon issued a report on Wal-Mart that said the retailer is contributing to the hunger crisis in the United States.

"In addition to paying workers so little that too many rely on public assistance, Walmart and the Waltons are building their wealth with income from food stamps," the report said.

According to Wal-Mart's website, it pays an average, full-time hourly wage of $12.92, which is above the federal minimum wage.

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