VIA| For 14 years, Marine John Harkness has collected Toys for Tots donations at the Medina, Ohio, Walmart. In years past, he was allowed to stand inside, between the two sets of doors and away from the bad weather and cold temperatures outside.
This year, however, there was a new store manager. And she told Harkness that he couldn’t stand inside. So, he stood outside, in the rain and the cold:
Harkness said, “She said ‘You have to stay outside. You can’t come in the store.’ We weren’t allowed in between the two sets of doors. We have to be outside.”
Undeterred, the Marine and his wife, Lynn, took up positions outside:
“Well, it was raining, it was cold, but we stood there. I was at one door, my wife was at the other door,” John Harkness said.
A passerby saw the Marine in the inclement weather and snapped a photo, and along with the manager’s photo, name and phone number, posted about the incident on Facebook:
Reaction to the post was swift and sometimes vile. While the post about the incident generated a lot of support for the Harknesses, Lynn spoke out against the vile comments and death threats being made toward the manager and her family:
“I don’t feel that’s necessary. I think that’s totally out of line. I would like them to really stop harassing the family.”
The Harknesses say they will continue to collect donations outside the Walmart building:
“If they let us. Why not? This is for the kids. Not about us,” said John Harkness.
Walmart released a statement about the situation, apologizing but also making clear that it is their corporate policy to have all such solicitations occur outside the store. Harkness was allowed inside in prior years, against Walmart policy, due to the decision of the prior store manager.
A customer of a different Ohio Walmart location noted that her store ignores the corporate policy:
The Harknesses run the Toys for Tots program for their county. This year, they’re collecting donations for more than 1,700 children.
The organization notes that usually approximately 15 to 20 percent of Marine Reservists and Marines participate in collecting donations each year.