Led by Walmart, Tyson Foods, NWA Moves Fast to Help Tornado Victims

Northwest Arkansas' largest companies swing into action fast to help after natural disasters elsewhere and they're joined by small businesses, local churches, media outlets and individuals.

After tornadoes this week devastated the Central Arkansas communities of Vilonia and Mayflower, Walmart and Tyson Foods were among the first to provide assistance. The companies led the way, helping in Arkansas but also doing disaster relief work on a national level.

Tyson Foods team members have helped after disasters for years, but the company first started using a “Meals that Matter” disaster relief semi-trailer after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012. The trailer provides space to store up to 20,000 pounds of chicken, beef and pork, and it provides other supplies and equipment that are helpful at disaster sites, including refrigeration, tents, lights, cooking and serving supplies.

More than 40 Tyson facilities across the U.S. are capable of responding to disasters by sending grills and Tyson Foods volunteers to cook. Workers at those facilities, including the company’s headquarters in Springdale, provided much-needed meal assistance to victims and volunteers after hurricanes Katrina, Ike, and Sandy; ice storms in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky in 2009; the Joplin, Mo. and northern Alabama tornadoes in 2011; and last year’s tornado in Moore, Okla. This YouTube video shows how Tyson Foods helped after the Joplin tornado.

The “all in” approach at Walmart is no less impressive and it was apparent on Sunday night shortly after Mayflower and Vilonia were struck.

THV-11, a Little Rock television station, reported that store managers and associates were loading pallets of batteries, water and other merchandise to donate to volunteers and tornado survivors. Walmart said on its website that it continues to make donations of water, cleaning supplies, work gloves, grab and go snacks for emergency responders, flashlights, batteries, blankets, toiletries and basic shelter supplies.

Walmart and the Walmart Foundation late this week committing $250,000 in cash and in-kind donations to support disaster relief efforts in the Midwest and Southeast regions of the U.S.

“It saddens us to know that so many of the communities our associates and customers call home are impacted by these tornadoes and floods,” Walmart Foundation President Kathleen McLaughlin said. “Our heartfelt thoughts go out to all those affected. Walmart is committed to the communities we serve, and we are working on several ways to support those in need.”

Walmart has a long history of providing such relief. In 2005, Walmart dispatched 2,450 truckloads of supplies to help victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita after those storms ravaged Louisiana and other areas of the Gulf Coast.

Walmart’s work after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 drew national praise for being impressive in both speed and volume. The Washington Post described Walmart as “being held up as a model for logistical efficiency and nimble disaster planning, which have allowed it to quickly deliver staples such as water, fuel and toilet paper to thousands of evacuees.”

The City Wire earlier this week published a story about how Walmart and Tyson Foods are stepping up to help in Mayflower and Vilonia.