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St. Paul, Minn. — The Salvation Army bell ringer is a mainstay during the holidays. To many people, the sound of those ringing bells are as symbolic of the season as eggnog and Santa Claus.
But this year there are fewer national retailers who are allowing bell ringers outside their stores. Some have never allowed bell ringers and Target has joined that group this year. Target says it's making the move so its "no solicitation" policy is consistent.
Target spokeswoman Lena Michaud says the company exempted the Salvation Army from the policy in the past. But she says too many other groups were asking for a similar exemption. She says they couldn't meet all of the requests and told the Salvation Army it was no longer welcome outside its company doors.
"We hope that our guests and everyone in the community understands that this in no way diminishes Target's support to its communities," Michaud said. "We will continue to donate 5 percent of our federally taxable income back into the communities each year. This is about solicitation. It's not about supporting one particular organization or another."
The decision could have a negative impact on the Salvation Army of Minnesota and North Dakota. The charity says it had bell ringers at 55 Target stores statewide; 43 of those were in the Twin Cities metro area. The charity says kettle donations outside of those Target Stores amounted to $1.3 million dollars last year; 20 percent of last year's total kettle donations in the state.
Despite the setback with Target, the Salvation Army raised its fundraising goal about 10 percent this year, to $7 million. When the charity announced its annual kettle drive earlier this month, officials didn't mention Target by name. But it was clearly on the minds of army officials.
Twin Cities commander Paul Fleeman told the crowd that it needed more donations and volunteers. "It's going to be a battle but we are an army; remember that and we're used to battles," Fleeman said. "We fight to help people to recover their self respect, their hope, their sense of worth."
Fleeman says the Salvation Army may be forced to cut some programs if it doesn't reach its goals. Fleeman didn't want to speculate, but others involved with the charity say programs like rent assistance, English as a Second Language programs and other programs that help the poor could be on the table. That worries Salvation Army officials who work at the Harbor Light Multiservice Center in downtown Minneapolis. It provides food, shelter and work for the less fortunate.
James McCloud, who works at the center, also received rent assistance when he had a knee injury. McCloud worries that many good services will be cut if the Salvation Army doesn't reach its kettle goal.
"We will continue to donate 5 percent of our federally taxable income back into the communities each year. This is about solicitation. It's not about supporting one particular organization or another."
"Need knows no season and it never ends," McCloud said. "It's a continuing process so I think when we struggle in times like this but some people really don't understand that this things never ends. There's nobody getting fat down here."
The Salvation Army says it will increase direct mail solicitations this year in the hopes of making up the loss of revenue from Target's decision.
Several retailers, including Cub Foods, have allowed the Salvation Army to place more kettles outside of its stores. The charity has also started an Internet campaign that allows shoppers to buy online at certain stores and donate a portion of the sale to the Salvation Army.
Melissa Stone, who studies non-profits at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute, says those types of efforts are important to keep up the Salvation Army's visibility in the community. She says the kettle donations create revenue but it also reminds people to make an additional donation to the Salvation Army
"The visibility is really not trivial. It's quite an important piece for Salvation Army and may signal not just a loss of those kinds of funds but potentially additional money as well."
Stone says it's likely that other national retailers may follow Target's lead in the years ahead. She says that means the Salvation Army needs to be less reliant on kettle donations and come up with other ways of raising funds.