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Giant limits days, hours charitable groups can raise funds in front of stores

By Nathan Rott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 7:10 PM

Shoppers will hear less bell-jingling, clinking change and holiday cheer outside grocery stores this winter.

A new policy by the Giant Foods chain will limit the number of days and hours charitable groups such as the Salvation Army can raise funds in front of their stores.

The move has left officials with the D.C. Salvation Army, which kicked off its annual Red Kettle fundraising drive Friday, worried.

"We're very concerned," said Maj. Steve Morris, the Salvation Army's area commander.

Of the $1.3 million in loose change, cash and checks collected at red kettles last holiday season, about $667,000 came from outside Giant stores in the greater Washington area, Morris said.

That's a little less than half of the group's holiday total.

To collect that much, bell ringers were typically stationed for up to 10 hours outside stores for a combined 35 days in November and December, Morris said.

The new guidelines allow Salvation Army collectors to be in front of Giant stores only 12 days during those months, and limit their ringing to four hours a day.

"We're giving them six days in November and six days in December," said Giant spokesman Jamie Miller, which is more than any other nonprofit group will get under the new policy. Other groups will not get more than two days a month, he said.

The change was made, Miller said, because Giant has a long-standing policy of allowing only one nonprofit fundraiser outside its stores at a time.

By making the change, "we're providing better access to the other nonprofit groups while supporting the Salvation Army's efforts," he said.

The fact that some shoppers simply don't like being asked to donate money was part of the consideration too, he said.

The four-hour limit, which affects all nonprofit groups, reflects that. It allows Giant "to maintain an environment that doesn't hinder our customer's shopping experience," Miller said.

Representatives of the Salvation Army acknowledged the company's concern and expressed gratefulness toward Giant for the 12-day allowance.

Bell ringers will deploy 292 kettles this holiday season, including many at Giant stores, and the Salvation Army won't drop its stated goal of raising $1.6 million, Morris said. With the economy the way it is, it can't, he said.

The money raised during the Red Kettle drive, which has run from early November to Christmas Eve since 1891, stays in the D.C. area and is used to help the needy, buying food, clothing and toys, among other things.

"Between now and the end of the year, we'll have served over 30,000 people," Morris said.

And the limitations on days and hours won't effect the resolve of the bell ringers, according to Ruth Phillips.

Phillips, 75, has been "ringing" for the Salvation Army since 1985, she said, because it's fun and it's for a good cause. Mostly, though, she rings for the feeling she gets "when the kids hear you clinking the bell and they get all excited and run to their mom and dad to get money to put money in the kettle."

Wearing three jackets and a pair of thick gloves and wielding her trusty silver cane, which she's named "John the Baptist," Phillips has set up her tripod and kettle for 10-hour shifts at Kmarts in Montgomery County, Safeways in the District and at the Kennedy Center.

"I've been everywhere ringing for the Salvation Army," she said, including Giant stores in the area.

She doesn't know why Giant made the decision to impose a limitation, she said, but her main beef is that "four hours isn't no time to ring."

Because paid ringers will probably be deterred by the limited hours, Phillips said, she expects that volunteers such as her will make up the bulk of collectors at Giants this winter. It'll be tough to match her usual production, she said, but she'll get through it.

"I'll just have to ring that much harder," she said.

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