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8 ways Wal-Mart and other companies are giving back this holiday season

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The holiday season offers the perfect opportunity for companies to give back to their customers, their communities or to causes important to their founders. Once a year, companies get to shed their often self-serving reputation and show off their giving spirit. Some focus on providing basic necessities, like food and clothing, while others pledge to fight climate change or work to honor veterans. No matter what the cause, campaigns that emphasize generosity and charity are ubiquitous.

Here are eight companies that are harnessing the holiday season as a platform for giving this year.

This story is part of NBCU's Share Kindness. Follow the series on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. #ShareKindness


Operation holiday cheer

Through its Operation Holiday Cheer program, DHL will be delivering holiday spirit to American troops serving abroad. Starting Dec. 5, the mailing services provider began delivering about 500 Christmas trees, decorated with lights and ornaments, to soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain this year. The company also delivers holiday letters, menorahs, decorations and gifts.

The program began in 2004 when the mother of a soldier who was stationed in Iraq asked Dees' Nursery in Oceanside, New York, if she could buy a Christmas tree and send it to him. The nursery wanted to donate the tree but needed help shipping it overseas. They reached out to DHL Express and the community, and DHL Operation Holiday Cheer was created. Since then, DHL has delivered more than 9,000 trees to soldiers overseas.

"Operation Holiday Cheer is a chance for DHL to show our gratitude to our troops in a big way during this country's most important holiday season," Greg Hewitt, CEO of DHL Express U.S., said in a statement. "It is an important tradition for all of us in DHL — the chance to work with community partners and deploy our global shipping network — and one we look forward to every year. For me personally, it's one of the best presents I receive, because it's a chance to give the gift of thanks to our soldiers."

The trees are paid for by Dees' Nursery, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and New York area businesses and citizens. DHL donates its international express delivery services.



Socks are the most needed and least donated item of clothing in homeless shelters. Hanes aims to meet this need by donating 200,000 pairs of socks to the Salvation Army this holiday season. The company started this initiative in 2009 and has since donated 1.9 million pairs of socks.

This year Hanes is expanding its effort by placing collection bins in its 160 Hanesbrands outlet stores across the country. Customers can buy socks to donate, and store employees will distribute them to local nonprofit organizations.

"Walking a mile in someone's shoes takes on a much different meaning when that person is homeless," Hanes chief branding officer, Sidney Falken, said in a statement. The average homeless person walks 10 miles a day. "Access to something as basic as a clean, dry pair of socks can literally save lives within our country's homeless population," Falken said.


100 percent for the planet

This Black Friday, Patagonia donated $10 million — 100 percent of its in-store and online sales — to grassroots environmental organizations. CEO Rose Marcario announced the decision in a blog post, writing, "As people think generously about family and friends, we also want to help our customers show love to the planet, which badly needs a gift or two (and still gets coal every year)."

The outdoor clothing and gear retailer regularly donates 1 percent of its sales to nonprofit environmental groups, ranging from New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance to Climate Cycle in Chicago — adding up to $74 million since 1985. Given recent political developments, including the election of Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax created by the Chinese, Patagonia decided to take their donations to a new level.

"During a difficult and divisive time, we felt it was important to go further and connect more of our customers, who love wild places, with those who are fighting tirelessly to protect them," Marcario wrote. "This we know: If we don't act boldly, severe changes in climate, water and air pollution, extinction of species and erosion of topsoil are certain outcomes. The threats facing our planet affect people of every political stripe, of every demographic, in every part of the country. We all stand to benefit from a healthy environment — and our children and grandchildren do, too."


Operation Homefront

Wal-Mart — whose founding Walton family has a history of military service — always aims to honor those who have defended the country.

"We feel it is the right thing to do," said Blair Cromwell, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. "It is something that benefits our company and community," she said, explaining that many of the company's associates are veterans or are part of a military family and these efforts make associates feel good about the company for which they work.

This holiday season the retail giant is running two initiatives aimed at honoring and helping veterans. The first is a partnership with Wreaths Across America, which delivers wreaths to be laid on veteran graves across the nation each December. Wal-Mart has been partnering with WAA since 2007. The company sponsors about 40,000 wreaths each year and donates the services of more than a dozen tractor-trailers to deliver the wreaths around the country. To date it has donated more than $1.5 million in wreaths and almost $1 million in transportation.

The second initiative is a partnership with Operation Homefront, which helps military families with critical needs, like food and housing. Wal-Mart supports the organization's Holiday Meals for Military program by creating and transporting packaged meal kits that include everything needed for a holiday meal. (Packaging center shown above.) The company will provide about 8,500 meals this year at 27 distribution centers nationwide.


Amazon trucks will be delivering winter clothing, toys and household essentials to families in need across America this holiday season.
Source: Amazon

As part of a new holiday initiative called Trucks Across America, 17 Amazon trucks will be delivering items to families in need across the country. The e-commerce giant will provide items such as winter clothing, toys and household essentials to be sent to more than a dozen hyperlocal nonprofits located near Amazon fulfillment centers in cities ranging from Boston to Chicago and Sacramento, California. Some of the destinations include local chapters of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club and area children's hospitals.


Executive sleep out

On Nov. 17, Delta leaders spent the night on the street, using cardboard and sleeping bags as their beds, to show solidarity with homeless children. The Executive Sleep Out helps raise awareness and funds for Covenant House, a nonprofit that provides care and vital services to homeless, abandoned, trafficked and abused children throughout the country. Airline executives have participated in this event since 2013, with sleep-outs held in the United States and Canada.

After the 2015 sleep-out in Detroit, Dana Debel, Delta's managing director of state and local government affairs, said in a statement, "It is so important to realize how much I have to be thankful for — a roof over my families head, a fridge full of food, a good job. These are basics that so many are struggling with. But I left the event feeling hopeful. Covenant House has figured out how to break the cycle. We can end homelessness. It is possible. They are doing it. They just need our help."

This year 13 executives raised nearly $100,000 through sleep-outs in New York City, Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles and Toronto. (Shown above at the Atlanta event: Andrew Wingrove, managing director of e-commerce channels; Betsy Talton, managing director of corporate communications; Eric Phillips, senior vice president of pricing and revenue management.)

Since Delta's partnership with the nonprofit began, it has given more than $1 million to Covenant House.


Workers at Intel volunteer to give back for the holidays.
Source: Intel

Intel sites across the country are taking part in holiday season charity initiatives to support their local communities. In Santa Clara, California, employees organized a canned food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. They aim to raise $25,000 to ensure families don't go hungry during the holidays. They are also supporting the Family Giving Tree, a nonprofit that fulfills the holiday gift wishes of children living in poverty.

In Folsom, California, Intel employees are partnering with several local and national organizations to "adopt" more than 160 families in need.

"One of Intel's core, corporate values is to be an asset to our communities worldwide," Grace Davis, global director of public affairs, said in a statement. "Our philanthropic and volunteer programs are the vehicles by which we deliver on this value. We are so proud to work with some of the most generous employees in the nation. Giving back this holiday season and throughout the year is a win-win for everyone — our employees, our communities and Intel."


Workers at FedEx voluteer to give back for the holidays.
Source: FedEx

FedEx is helping U.S. troops feel a little closer to home this season with holiday care packages. The delivery company is supporting the USO's Holiday for Heroes program, which sends care packages and hosts holiday parties for service members deployed in Southwest Asia and remote locations. The care packages include decorations, snacks, DVDs and games. This year FedEx stuffed 6,000 care packages and 75 holiday-specific care packages, which will be distributed from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Since 2005, FedEx has provided the USO with more than $4 million in support.