- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Salvation Army was a welcome sight for thousands of storm victims when Florida was reeling from one hurricane after another during the summer. But with the holidays here, the charity’s bell ringers have been barred from Target stores.

Target decided earlier this year it could not permit Salvation Army bell ringers at any of its stores because doing so would be unfair to other charities wanting to solicit shoppers.

Now some shoppers are fuming that the nation’s second-largest retailer would turn away a charity whose bell ringers have long been a symbol of the holiday season.

“Target is this year’s Ebenezer Scrooge,” said Randy Sharp of the American Family Association, a Christian group which sent e-mails this week to 2.3 million people urging them to shop elsewhere in protest of Target’s policy.

“They are the Grinch that stole Christmas for a lot of needy children,” he said.

Carolyn Brookter, a spokeswoman for Target, said the chain always had a “no solicitation” policy at its stores but made an exception for the Salvation Army. But Miss Brookter said more and more groups have been asking for permission to collect money at Target, forcing the company to re-examine its relationship with the Salvation Army.

“The best way we thought to deal with this situation is to have a consistent policy,” she said. “It absolutely was a difficult decision. It was not done lightly.”

The Minneapolis-based chain had been the Salvation Army’s second-most profitable collection point, accounting for nearly $9 million of the $93.8 million raised by bell ringers nationwide in the 2003 holiday season. Wal-Mart, whose stores are the Salvation Army’s most lucrative collection point, continues to allow the red-kettle collections, as does Kmart.

The Salvation Army said yesterday it understands Target’s position and knew in January about the new policy.

Target’s decision is part of a trend of shopping centers deciding against allowing the bell ringers because of requests for similar access by other groups, said Theresa Whitfield, a spokeswoman for the Salvation Army.

Other major retailers, such as Toys R Us, Kohl’s department stores and Barnes & Noble, don’t allow bell ringers because of blanket no-solicitation policies.

“Anytime we lose a red kettle location we are disappointed,” Miss Whitfield said. “That includes not just Target, but other retailers. But it’s also a privilege to raise funds. We don’t lose sight of that.”

Miss Whitfield said that while the loss of Target is a concern, it likely wouldn’t hurt the bell ringers’ bottom line. Contributions in the red kettles have been steadily increasing over recent years, and Miss Whitfield said the furor over Target is actually prompting shoppers to be more generous when they do encounter a bell ringer.

Target also has tried to make it up to the Salvation Army by offering to find other ways to help the charity, along with contributions it already makes through an online shopping program run by the charity.

At a Super Target in Miramar, Fla., shopper Marina Hardin said Target is her favorite store, but she called a customer service number to protest its decision. Her brother in Texas, whose family is awaiting the birth of a child, has asked family members not to buy gifts from a Target registry.

“I believe that the Salvation Army really helps people in need and it’s always been a part of Christmas,” said Miss Hardin, a 45-year-old hotel worker.

But another shopper, Paulo Ramirez, said he was glad to see the bell ringers gone from the store.

“It’s very bothersome to see them out front of the store,” said the 65-year-old retiree. “It makes people feel that they have to give. There are other ways of donating.”

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