Pictured left to right: Walmart Executive Vice-President of Logistics Chris Sultemeier, Senior Manager at the Walmart Foundation Kathy Cox, Vice President Walmart Foundation Julie Gehrki and Operation Homefront President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr.
Today we are joined by Kathy Cox, a senior manager at the Walmart Foundation, who shares the connection Walmart has with our military communities and the Foundation’s involvement in Holiday Meals for Military.
By Erin Patterson.
The Holiday Meals for Military program can trace its start to the actions of a noble man who was moved to help a young military family pay for their groceries on the night before Thanksgiving seven years ago. One meal for one family gradually turned into hundreds, then thousands of meals for military families across the U.S. This year, the Holiday Meals for Military program will provide nearly 12,000 meals to families around the country.
The program would not be what it is today without the help of key partners, such as the Walmart Foundation. Kathy Cox, a senior manager at the Walmart Foundation, has led the strategy and grant-making for veteran and military families for the last 16 years. When she heard about the Holiday Meals for Military program, she knew that it was something Walmart wanted to support.
“Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have worked really hard since the beginning of this conflict [in Iraq and Afghanistan] to stay close to the pulse of our service members and our military families,” Kathy said. “In 2009, you’ve got American personnel and their families that had some real stress and strain. We had folks that were losing their loved ones, we had military service members who were injured. There were some real—both physical and financial—hardships that these families were dealing with. So for the holidays, what we wanted to be able to do was lift some of that burden.”
For Kathy and for the Walmart Foundation, it was the perfect time and the perfect program. Even more, she was very excited to be working with Operation Homefront. Kathy loved that Operation Homefront had strong relationships with military bases around the country, which meant that they would be able to specifically identify the families who most needed this type of program. At the same time, she was impressed with Operation Homefront’s fiscal responsibility. With 92% of financial donations going directly to programs like Holiday Meals for Military, Kathy knew that Operation Homefront was leveraging the Walmart Foundation’s dollars to have the highest positive impact on military families.
“We wouldn’t be investing if we weren’t certain that our military families were being served and were being served in the most efficient and effective way that makes use of our both in-kind and financial support,” Kathy said.
Looking out for service members and their families comes naturally to the Walmart Foundation. The Walmart family is filled with military families, and they have a lot of men and women who have served in the military and who are now a part of Walmart’s workforce. Furthermore, Kathy noted that military families often make up the community surrounding many Walmart stores around the country.
“There’s quite an alignment with military families anyway because that’s part of our DNA. If you’re surrounded by military families, you want to make sure that you’re supporting military families,” Kathy said.
Because the military is already such an integral part of Walmart’s community, the Foundation’s involvement in the Holiday Meals for Military program began quite organically, starting at the associate-level and moving up through the company.
“While the Foundation has helped with the corporate dollars, most recently in this campaign to make in-kind food donations, it’s our associates who have led. It’s the managers of stores that have been aligned with bases and military families that have a sincere desire to be that store of the community that serves these military families and helps lessen the challenge of putting a holiday meal on the table,” Kathy said.
Even though it started at a grassroots level, Walmart has an emotional investment—not just financial—in this program. Kathy remembers one year when she volunteered her Friday night to help prepare the bags of ingredients for the families. A young lady with two children came to register her family, and Kathy remembers how she could see that this mother had a lot weighing on her mind. As she went through the registration process, she was told that she and her family were the recipients of Christmas gifts that had been donated by another organization.
“And that’s when her resolve just broke,” Kathy remembers. “Once she regained her composure, she said, ‘You just have no idea. First, I had no idea how I was going to put a holiday meal on the table for my family. Now you’re telling me that also I have gifts that I’ll be able to share with my family. You have no idea how this will change our entire holiday season.’”
As we settle into the holiday season this year, Kathy reminds us that it’s important to be intentional in remembering our military families. Many of them are far from home and worried about whether or not they will be able to provide a happy, memorable holiday season for their children.
“Not all military families are base and with our all-volunteer force we have military families around us all the time,” Kathy noted. “I think we have to be intentional to try to get to know those families and to make sure that we’re being inclusive and recognize that not only are our military service members serving and sacrificing, these military families at home are serving and sacrificing right alongside them.”
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