In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, liberal elites immediately and harshly criticized the inadequacies of the federal government’s response. Yet relatively less has been said about the impressively effective outreach of other entities, perhaps because they occupy a less celebrated perch in the liberal pantheon.
Among them, of course, are the military and faith-based charities like the Salvation Army and Feed the Children. But a private company that’s a regular target of liberal vituperation has also stepped up with almost unprecedented generosity: Wal-Mart.
With a $17 million cash donation for hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast, Wal-Mart has also provided a host of services enabled by its immense distribution and information infrastructure. Mobile mini Wal-Mart stores were deployed to provide necessities free of charge in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, along with more than 2,500 truckloads of water and other supplies requested by emergency relief agencies.
Along with free check cashing in 126 stores near the disaster areas, the company likewise activated an Online Emergency Contact Registry to help its employees and customers to post, email and search for information to locate their family members. More recently, Wal-Mart also established gift registries, so that families and friends of those impoverished by the hurricane can provide them with the supplies they need most.
Wal-Mart’s generosity dwarfs that of top competitors, like Target, which has donated $2.5 million to the Red Cross and is providing supplies to organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross. And Target’s attitude toward faith-based organizations like the Salvation Army stands in stark contrast to Wal-Mart’s. Just last week, even in light of the Salvation Army’s role as one of the primary responders to the Katrina disaster, Target refused to reconsider its decision to ban the Army’s bell-ringers from its stores during the Christmas season. But according to newspaper accounts, Wal-Mart told Salvation Army officials, “Whatever you need, call us first.”
No doubt there is much for liberals to dislike about Wal-Mart. It isn’t unionized, and its corporate culture reflects a conservatism that the elites find distasteful, from its refusal to stock music or computer games with mature ratings to its decision not to sell Preven, a “morning-after” pill that many consider an abortifacient.
But Wal-Mart is uniquely positioned to understand the needs of those whom Katrina has devastated the most. It has long catered to a clientele that desperately needs the savings it provides. Fully 25% of Wal-Mart’s customers have neither a basic checking nor a savings account; they are living paycheck to paycheck and food represents their second-largest expenditure (behind only their housing costs).
Wal-Mart has risen to the occasion, reaching out to the hurricane’s most vulnerable victims with sensitivity, compassion, and real generosity. So the next time some politician or competitor appeals to anti-Wal-Mart sentiment, perhaps it will be time to ask, “What did you do after the hurricane?”