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A Giant Donation Could Be Retailer's Salvation

A Giant Donation Could Be Retailer's Salvation

One of the first things Giant Food of Landover did to mark its 75th year was to give the Salvation Army — that venerable institution of do-good Christians — a $75,000 donation.

The gesture seems appropriate and benevolent given the fact the Landover-based chain was founded in 1936 at a time when a third of the nation was said to be ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-clothed. The Salvation Army, founded in 1865, became rooted in London at a time when Dickensian poorhouses flourished.

What better way to honor the founding of a grocery business that opened its first store in the nation's capital than to support an organization with its American affiliate based in the capital area whose mission is to do God's work by helping those in need.

While the cause is worthy, Giant's motivation could be suspect given the negative publicity it received when a policy change significantly cut the number of days and hours allowing Salvation Army bell ringers to raise funds during its well-recognized red kettle holiday campaign.

The reason for the change, according to a Washington Post article (, was to allow more access to other nonprofit groups.

Previous to the policy change, bell ringers could ring their hearts out at some of Giant's 179 stores in the capital area for 10 hours a day over 35 days during November and December. Giant limited that to four hours each day over 12 days.

The 2010 campaign results, which also included partners Safeway, Wal-Mart and JC Penney, fell well below the goal of $1.6 million. Revenues were off 25% from the goal and 11% from the 2009 drive.

Funds of $270,000 raised through Giant stores were off 60%, from the previous year's total of $667,000. That's over a $300,000 shortfall even when factoring in Giant's $75,000 donation.

The Salvation Army told me it was grateful for any donations it receives, and it is talking to Giant about a new mid-summer campaign.

Even for those with the best of intentions, things sometimes backfire.

Supermarkets are deluged with requests from big and small organizations to solicit funding on retail premises. Retailers must pick and choose carefully what groups they support and how they support them. Discriminatory charges can surface. Unions and others have used the argument that allowing one charitable organization access to a retailer's premise and not others is discriminatory. Retailers' property rights are murky and subject to challenge.

Some retailers, like Target, simply don't take risks. They have instituted a no-solicitation policy so their guests can have a “distraction-free shopping environment.”