Giant's rule is blamed for less-full red kettles

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2011

For more than two decades, bell-ringing Salvation Army volunteers have collected donations outside Giant grocery stores, a holiday season ritual that gave shoppers a convenient way to help the less-fortunate.

Last fall, Giant enforced a sharp reduction in the number of hours that charitable groups could operate in front of its stores. Now, the Salvation Army says the policy change helped cause a steep drop in its end-of-year fundraising drive across the Washington region.

Overall, the organization raised $1.1 million, 25 percent less than its goal, the Salvation Army said this week. In front of Giant Food stores, Salvation Army volunteers raised $270,000 - 60 percent less than what it collected outside those supermarkets last year.

"We believe the economy played a role, and we believe our lowered visibility across the community played somewhat of a role," said Ken Forsythe, a Salvation Army spokesman.

In past years, he said, volunteers could staff red kettles for up to eight hours a day, Monday through Saturday, from Nov. 12 until Christmas Eve. The Salvation Army does not collect donations on Sunday.

Under Giant's new policy, the Salvation Army could collect donations for four hours a day for one week in November and eight hours a day for one week in December, Forsythe said.

Jamie Miller, a Giant spokesman, did not return phone calls seeking comment. But in a statement, the chain said it changed its policy to allow more not-for-profit groups to raise money in front of its stores.

"Our primary goal, especially in this challenging economy, is to be supportive of as many of these organizations as we can to best meet the needs in our communities," Giant's statement said. "Because these needs have dramatically increased, we wanted to offer more opportunities both during the holiday giving season and throughout the year."

Giant's policy change irked some advocates for the needy.

"It's hard times like these when we need our corporate partners to step up and do more rather than less," said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations.

"A lot less people are going to get a lot less help when they most need it. And that's tragic," Lynch added.

Other retailers - including Target, Best Buy and Home Depot - have banned the Salvation Army in the past.

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