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Wal-Mart pledges $2 billion to food banks as demand rises

Wal-Mart launched a $2 billion commitment to feeding hungry Americans Wednesday. It will donate more than 1.1 billion pounds of food, and it will help food banks become more efficient.

A shopper picks out groceries while at the Wal-Mart Super Center. Wal-Mart plans to significantly ramp up its donations to the nation's food banks to total $2 billion over the next five years, the retail giant said Wednesday.

Seth Perlman/AP/File

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Wal-Mart launched a $2 billion commitment to feeding hungry Americans Wednesday, and in the process the retail giant highlighted a growing social challenge.

The five-year charitable effort comes as roughly 1 in 8 Americans is receiving food stamps from the government. Some 15 million workers are unemployed, and millions more are squeezed by cutbacks in work hours or income. And food banks have been scrambling to raise funds to meet rising demand.

Ending hunger, says Vicki Escarra, president of the nonprofit group Feeding America, will require a sustained effort involving many years and many actors – from corporations and individuals to food banks and government.

"We know that those hit the hardest by our economy’s downturn face the longest and steepest uphill battle to financial recovery," Ms. Escarra said in a statement Wednesday. "Thanks to the long-term, ongoing support of our partners like Walmart, Feeding America will continue to lead the fight against domestic hunger, a fight we cannot win alone."

Wal-Mart said its expanded focus on alleviating hunger will have four elements:

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