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FIRST-PERSON: Unlike Target, don’t be a Scrooge

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Shoppers at Target stores this Christmas season may have noticed a certain, familiar sound missing from the hustle and bustle of their favorite retailer. Bell ringers from the Salvation Army with their distinctive red kettles are no longer on the premises seeking spare change to support the organization’s unique charitable work. But it’s not because they don’t want to be there.

Target Corporation, it seems, is acting like Charles Dickens’ Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol” –- that is, the selfish and uncaring prosperous Scrooge before his encounter with spirits of Christmases past, present and future.

America’s second-largest retailer announced last January it would no longer exempt the Salvation Army from the company’s longstanding solicitation policy, which “does not permit individuals (including political candidates and/or their campaign organizations) or nonprofit organizations to solicit donations, distribute literature, sell merchandise or hold events on our premises,” according to a statement on Target’s website. Target also notes that the corporation donates more than “$2 million each week to neighborhoods, programs and schools across the country…. Target is committed to giving back to the communities in which we do business.”

Target’s generosity, however, will be of little assistance to the Salvation Army this year.

According to Religion News Service, kettles at Target stores last year brought in nearly $9 million –- about $10,000 per location -– and $93 million at all commercial properties. The Salvation Army hopes to make up some of the loss through its website: www.salvationarmyusa.org, and other retailers have announced they will permit the bell ringers at their stores. Those that will allow or expand their red kettle programs include BJ’s Wholesale Club, Books-A-Million, Michael’s Stores, Circuit City (at six stores in Richmond, Va.) and AutoZone, according to RNS.

Radio talk show host and author Hugh Hewitt, in a piece for The Weekly Standard, noted the parallel of Target’s decision to push out the Salvation Army with Dickens’ Scrooge, quoting at length from A Christmas Carol.

In a Nov. 24 column, Hewitt also contrasted Target with its major competitor.

“Wal-Mart has no problem maintaining the Salvation Army as an exception to its general rule of non-solicitation, perhaps because the Salvation Army’s mission is so closely tied to the root of the celebration about to begin: The offering of kindness by strangers to a family in need,” Hewitt wrote. “Perhaps as well the tradition of gift giving on which America’s retail sector has grown large and prosperous having its origins in the celebration of Christ’s birthday may also have something to do with Wal-Mart’s decision, and with the angry reaction of former Target shoppers.”

As a college student, I was employed at two different Target stores for three Christmas seasons, and I don’t recall the bell ringers from the Salvation Army creating a problem for those very profitable stores. I was glad that my company was assisting a worthy charity.

Here in Florida, residents who suffered through a historic hurricane season this year do not need to be told about the valuable work of the Salvation Army. Alongside Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers and the American Red Cross, Salvation Army volunteers were critical to the relief efforts following four hurricanes in just six weeks.

Of course, Target is free to make policies concerning charities it deems best for its business interests. It’s difficult for me to see why the longstanding exception for the Salvation Army should not be continued, but it’s certainly Target’s right to remove the Salvation Army’s privileged treatment. While within its rights, the decision may prove to be bad business -– and it’s certainly not a public relations coup.

Apart from the decisions of big corporations, the more fundamental issue for Christians is whether we will support worthy charitable causes. The Salvation Army, Prison Fellowship, Samaritan’s Purse and other Christian organizations are doing important ministries in our communities, especially during the Christmas season. It’s up to us to ensure that these ministries are supported adequately in order to fulfill their significant missions.

Above and beyond the biblical tithe to our local churches required of all Christians — and our best support ever for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering to send Southern Baptist missionaries around the world -– we should all adopt a worthy Christian charity and do our part to undergird their vital work.

This Christmas, unlike Target, don’t be a Scrooge.
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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  • James A. Smith Sr.