ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A South St. Paul man said a Salvation Army bell-ringer berated him for not putting money in a kettle outside a Twin Cities Walgreens drug store, prompting the shopper to swear off giving to the charity and resulting in the ringer being fired.
In a letter to the editor published Monday in the Star Tribune, Mark Williams says the confrontation happened while he and his son were entering the store and resumed upon departing.
"Unfortunately, I had no cash, just check cards, so I was unable to donate," Williams wrote. "As we walked past, the bell-ringer began to harass me about not giving any money."
Then, while leaving the store, "it started up again -- and continued as we were driving out of the parking lot," Williams added. "This person was waving his arms and yelling at us.
"What a shame that a service that is designed to help the needy has to resort to using combative, rude people to achieve its goals. I will never again give to the Salvation Army."
In an interview Monday, Williams said the incident Thursday evening at the Walgreens on Cahill Avenue in Inver Grove Heights rattled his 12-year-old son.
"The guy scared him," Williams said. "He didn't want to get out of the car at McDonald's" across the street, where they stopped afterward.
Williams said he has spoken with one person at the charity about what happened. "She was going to have another person call me back, which has never happened," he said.
Salvation Army spokeswoman Annette Bauer said the bell-ringer was fired after he explained to charity officials, " All I said was, 'You should give to the Salvation Army."'
As for Williams' pledge to never again give to the Salvation Army, he said "I'm open" to resuming his regular practice of feeding the kettle every holiday season.
Bauer acknowledged that the charity does field a handful of complaints about bell-ringers, who are either paid $8 an hour or are volunteers, at about 400 Red Kettle locations around the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area during the Christmas season. Some who are paid are struggling to get back on their feet financially and have been homeless or live at the Salvation Army's shelter.
"We usually hear about (bell-ringers) smoking or texting while at the kettle," she said, along with the long-running debate over whether they should say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" to shoppers.
Bauer said bell-ringers are briefed on how to interact with the public. They are instructed to not start conversations, but if shoppers "engage you in conversation, that's OK," she added.
Otherwise, the charity encourages bell-ringers to make sure to give a holiday greeting and say thank you, she said.
And above all, Bauer added, "Don't question if someone gives or not. If someone gives, they give. If they don't, they don't."
Bauer said she would like to find the letter-writer and explain that what he says happened violates the Salvation Army's "rules of engagement."
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