HOUSTON — The Houston Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association plans to involve the public, and not just the produce industry, in the 26th annual Gift of Produce, the year-end donation of produce to area food banks.

In the past, it’s been a gathering of members of the Houston produce industry, retailers and a collection of representatives from member agencies from the Houston Food Bank. This year, the association hopes to get the public more involved, at the Dec. 12 event in downtown Houston, said Pierre Bouche, association president. First, the presentation has been moved from early morning to 4 p.m. The location still is in negotiation, but Bouche said it should be a family-friendly event.

“Moving it to the afternoon makes it easier for those involved in set-up and for retailers not to have to take an entire day off work to attend,” Bouche said.

Houston group sets plans for mega-produce donationThe association also plans to have an entertainment component to get consumers more involved and to raise awareness of the annual gift in Houston.

The changes were announced at the association’s Oct. 3 meeting. The featured speaker was Todd Manley, vice president and region six general manager for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Manley said Wal-Mart is preparing for its first store opening inside the Interstate 610 Loop in Houston on Oct. 26.

“This store, while in a more affluent area in general, will give greater access to low-cost food for people who need it,” he said.

There are 106 Walmart stores in the Houston area, Manley said.

Manley also talked of the progress of Wal-Mart’s sustainability initiatives. For example, over the past five years, store waste to landfills has dropped significantly.

“Each store used to have two containers emptied twice a week and now they’re down to one container emptied once a week,” he said.

Wal-Mart also plans to double its locally sourced foods over the next 10 years, he said.