Wal-Mart answers call to help Sandy victims

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Photos courtesy of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Wal-Mart and PepsiCo were seen as humanitarian leaders among Hurricane Sandy victims in New York and New Jersey on Sunday (Nov. 4), as more than a dozen tractor trailer rigs loaded with supplies from both companies rolled in to help.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said he picked up the phone early Saturday morning and made two calls for help as cold weather approached. The first was to Bill Simon, CEO and president of Walmart U.S., and the second was to Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo.

“I think I woke Bill up but he was too kind to say so," Cuomo said a press conference Sunday afternoon.

Cuomo told the group that Simon and Wal-Mart were eager to help saying, ‘We feel for you, and I understand what we need to do, let me go to work on it.’”

Within an hour or so Cuomo said Simon returned the call to share news that five tractor trailers were loaded and soon headed toward New York and they would be arriving the next day. 

Cuomo said the second call was to PepsiCo and that conversation went the same way as CEO Nooyi pledged to send help immediately.

As promised, a total of 14 tractor trailer rigs rolled into New York on Sunday thanks to the two corporate giants.

Wal-Mart donated six trailer truck loads containing 60 pallets of dry food and beverages, 5,895 cases of cleaning supplies and 2,051 board games for the kids. PepsiCo donated five trailer truck loads of beverages and three trailer truck loads of snacks, totaling more than 100,000 cases of products. In addition, PepsiCo has committed to donating another 22 trailer truck loads of similar supplies over the next week, Cuomo said.

These donations were loaded into National Guard vehicles Sunday afternoon and will be distributed to New Yorkers in need throughout the affected regions.

“Hurricane Sandy caused unspeakable devastation for millions of people,” Gisel Ruiz, chief operating officer for Walmart U.S., said at Sunday’s press conference in New York. “Moments like this demand that we all come together – business, government and community – to help our neighbors rebuild their lives. Wal-Mart is committed to doing its part to help with the recovery effort and will continue to coordinate closely with leaders like Governor Cuomo to help ensure that those who have been impacted have what they need to get through this difficult time.”

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Dianna Gee said corporate teams have been working around the clock to support response and relief efforts.

“We have facilitated several requests from government officials in the impacted areas. Those requests have ranged from transporting generators to schools and hospitals in the city of New York Friday night to delivering about a million bottles of water on Saturday throughout the northeast,” Gee noted in a email.

Cuomo said the corporate response has been “awesome” and their spirit “truly inspirational – an emblem of America at its best."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie publicly thanked Wal-Mart Stores Inc.for stepping in to supply water throughout the area on Saturday (Nov. 3).

On Sunday, Wal-Mart hosted the “World’s Largest Grill" at its store parking lot in Secaucus, N.J.

Gee notes that Johnsonville furnished the Brats and the grill with the retailer providing buns and drinks in an effort to feed the community, much of which was still without power.

Late last week Wal-Mart committed up to $1.5 million to help its disaster relief partners (American Red Cross, Salvation Army and Feeding America) with relief efforts in the hardest hit areas to ensure the essential needs of residents are being met.

"Given the tremendous devastation across the region, Wal-Mart has been in constant contact with state, city and local agencies to understand the specific needs of impacted communities, to listen and to act, said Sylvia Burwell, president of the Walmart Foundation.

She said the gifts so far have included food and personal care products like diapers and shelter supplies and roughly one million bottles of water, half going to the five boroughs of New York City and half going to the state of New Jersey.

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with those who have been affected, and we'll continue to play a role in the greater recovery effort," Burwell said.

Additionally, Sam's Clubs in the Northeast are also offering cell phone recharging stations and temporarily waiving membership fees to those areas affected by the storm.

Wal-Mart itself with hit by the storm, temporarily closing more than 300 stores in Sandy’s path last week.

Gee said the stores closed due to power outages and mandatory evacuations. The vast majority of them (250) reopened within 24 hours of the storm making landfall. The last one (Linden, N.J.) reopened today, (Nov. 4).

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“We were very fortunate that none of our facilities received significant damage,” Gee said.

Gee said nearly 250,000 Wal-Mart employees were located in the path of Hurricane Sandy and the vast majority made it through the storm with no injuries.

“Sadly, one associate lost her son in the storm and our field leadership is ensuring that this associate and her family are being supported in every way. A few associates have reported personal property damages due to flooded homes,” Gee said. 

She said Wal-Mart also has programs to help those struggling with emotional impact as well as systems in place to assist families whose homes are no longer livable.

The company’s employees also pitch in to help by funding a trust that aids other workers in times of need. Associates who are experiencing a hardship can apply for a financial assistance grant from the trust, according to Gee.·

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