Giant markets cut back on Salvation Army hours

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

A new policy by the Giant Food 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 Salvation Army worried.

"It's hard for us because we'll lose, particularly in the Baltimore area, a considerable amount of income," said Maj. Rick Mikles, the general secretary for the Maryland and West Virginia Division of the Salvation Army.

During the 2009 holiday season, Salvation Army ringers raised between $125,000 and $150,000 at Giant locations in the Baltimore area, Mikles said.

In the Washington region, 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, Maj. Steve Morris, Salvation Army area commander, 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.

The money raised during the Red Kettle drive, which has run from early November to Christmas Eve since 1891, stays in the area in which it is raised 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" in the Washington region, 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.

Officials with the Salvation Army said they would try to make up the difference by moving ringers to other stores.

Mikles said he was appreciative that Giant representatives "have not cut us out altogether."

"We're just going to try to pick it up at other spots that are allowing us to ring," he said, like anchor stores at area malls.

Baltimore Sun reporter Yeganeh June Torbati contributed to this article.

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