Social media erupted in outrage over the weekend after a local woman accused Medina’s Walmart store of disrespecting a Marine Corps veteran by forcing him to collect donations for charity outside in the rain.
A Facebook user under the name Janet Rodin posted a picture of veteran John Harkness standing in the rain. She included a long, critical message against the store and urged friends to share the photo and call the store to complain.
“He can bleed and die, but he can’t stand inside,” Rodin wrote.
Harkness, contacted by The Gazette on Sunday afternoon, said he was upset because he had been allowed to stand inside the store in previous years while he collected donations for the Toys for Tots Foundation, a charity associated with the Marine Corps that donates toys to needy children.
“We’ve always been inside that Walmart (at 4141 Pearl Road, Medina), ever since the store became a Super Store,” said Harkness, 69. “Last year, we had a singing group in there with us singing and playing guitar the whole time. But this year, the manager is fairly new and told us we have to be outside.”
Harkness, who served on active duty from 1964 to 1969, said he can handle the cold, but it’s the principle of the matter that concerns him.
“It’s frustrating,” he said, “but being a former active duty Marine, I can handle the weather.”
He said the reaction on social media has been almost overwhelming, and he thanked those who showed support.
“My wife’s phone has been ringing, our phones are ringing off the hook,” he said. “We’ve been getting calls and emails and messages all day.”
A spokesperson for Walmart said on Sunday that the charity collectors had been permitted inside the store by previous managers, who were violating company policy by allowing them indoors.
“Our company policy is for charity groups to be outside. You’re familiar with Salvation Army bell ringers and people like that outside,” spokesperson Brian Nick said. “So this is just a manager upholding the policy.”
Nick said the manager, Robin Wright, has held the position at the Medina store for less than a year.
He said Wright was simply upholding a corporate policy by disallowing Harkness from being indoors, and he apologized if Harkness felt disrespected.
“If a Marine or anyone was treated with disrespect, that is unacceptable and we are looking into this matter further to get the facts,” he said. “Walmart’s corporate policy across our more than 4,500 stores does not allow this type of solicitation inside our stores and we apologize for any confusion about this policy.”
He said the corporate position on veterans is one of utmost respect.
“Walmart’s support of our men and women in uniform,” he said, “both during active service and when they return home, is a privilege that we strive to honor each day through our commitment to hiring hundreds of thousands of veterans as well as the many charitable veteran organizations we are proud to support.”
He said Walmart is also happy to support nonprofits that solicit outside its many stores.
“We are proud to support wonderful organizations like Toys for Tots, Girls and Boys Scouts, the Salvation Army, and the Red Cross,” he said, “who are stationed outside our stores during the holidays and other times.”