Wal-Mart management has worked out a compromise with a Marine veteran who was forced to collect holiday donations for charity outside in the rain.
A photo of 69-year-old veteran John Harkness went viral on social media over the weekend, sparking outrage against the management of the Wal-Mart location in Medina Township. Harkness said he had been allowed to solicit donations for Toys for Tots inside the store in previous years, but this year was told he must seek donations outside.
The photo was shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter, with comments questioning Wal-Mart’s respect for veterans.
A Wal-Mart spokesperson told The Gazette on Sunday that Harkness was asked to solicit outside in order to comply with corporate policy. The store has a new manager this year, he said, and the previous manager had been violating corporate policy by allowing solicitors inside.
To accommodate the solicitors, spokesperson Brian Nick said the Wal-Mart location will provide charities with a tent and heaters to protect them from rain, snow and cold during next year’s collection. This year’s Toys for Tots drive at Wal-Mart has ended.
“Our market manager and store manager met with John and his wife and had a really good conversation about how they could keep working together,” Nick said. “The market manager said they had used a tent of sorts in the past and that was suggested for them, too.”
Nick explained the compromise was not a change to the corporate policy.
“It’s not a change in policy,” he said, “but of course stores are left to decide how to accommodate. Maybe if you’re in Arizona and it’s 110 degrees outside or something, they’d make some accommodations for that.”
He said the accommodations would be offered to all charities collecting at the Medina Township location, and not just Toys for Tots.
“It’s relevant to any charitable group,” he said, “be it the Girl Scouts or Toys for Tots or someone else.”
On Tuesday, Harkness said the situation had been “blown way out of proportion” on social media. He said he’d been interviewed by dozens of TV news stations, newspapers and radio programs, and he was scheduled to be interviewed on a national station this week.
“My wife and I have no hard feelings toward Wal-Mart. We don’t want any hostilities toward the manager,” he said, explaining the manager and her family had received death threats as a result of the social media outrage. “This is not about Wal-Mart and it’s not about my wife and me. It’s about the children — about putting a smile on my wife’s face on Christmas morning.”
He said he didn’t fault the manager for doing her job.
“All she did wrong was that there was no communication face-to-face,” he said. “She always had someone else do it for her.”
Harkness said he and his wife have received a lot of support from the community.
“I just can’t believe all the support we received,” he said. “We were getting calls and texts and emails all day and night. It was crazy.”
Harkness said he expected the support would carry over into next year’s campaign.
“Even though this has been blown out of proportion by the public, every gray storm cloud has some sunlight behind it,” he said. “I anticipate a fantastic campaign next year.”