"This program was completely taken out of context. We are offended. This was an act of human kindness for our associates," said spokesman Brooke Buchanan referring to a bins placed in an employee-only area of a Canton, Ohio, store that asked for donations, "so Associates in Need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner."
Buchanan said Walmart employees through the Associates in Critical Need Trust had donated $80 million to fellow-associates since 2001, USA Today reported Tuesday.
That program awards grants of up to $1,500 to associates facing tough times, including "homelessness or illness," the newspaper said.
An advocacy group called Organization United for Respect on its website challenged Walmart, which made profits of more than $15 billion in 2012, to pay its employees enough to feed their families without having to use charity to do so.
"Walmart is asking us to donate food to our co-workers. Why can't Walmart pay us enough so we can feed our families?" the OUR posting says.
Buchanan said the charity drive was a "localized, store-by-store event."
"It is a local way to help our fellow associates," he said.
Buchanan also said that Walmart does not contribute to the employee-oriented charities.