John Harkness, a 69 year-old US Marine veteran collecting donations for Toys For Tots, was asked to leave and stand outside a Medina, Ohio, Walmart on Sunday. A passing customer took a photo of him and spread it online, sparking outrage from the town.
Harkness told FOX 8 News that he’s been allowed inside the store for the last 15-16 years to collect donations.
With the store under new management, Harkness was asked to stand outside this year in the rain by store manager Robin Wright.
Janet Rodin, the Medina woman who took Harkness’s photo and spread it online, added the message “He can bleed and die, but he can’t stand inside…” to her Facebook post. As of Nov. 30, the image had been shared nearly 32,000 times.
The Medina Gazette quotes Harkness saying, “We’ve always been inside that Walmart…, even since the store became a Super Store. 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.”
He continued that he could stand the cold, but that it was the principle of the matter that bothered him.
Walmart stated that it is against company policy to allow solicitors inside their stores – veterans or otherwise. For past managers to have allowed this was breaking company policy.
As the Medina Gazette reports, Walmart spokesman Brian Nick defended Medina store manager Robin Wright for upholding company policy and apologized if John Harkness felt disrespected.
Nick continued, “If a Marine or anyone was treated with disrespect, that is unacceptable and we are looking into this matter further to get the facts. 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.”
John’s wife, Lynn Harkness, organizes the Toys For Tots drives in Medina County. She voiced her frustration to FOX 8, saying, “We have the Auxiliary and the Marines helping[.] They are in their 60s most of them and on up. A couple of the Marines have had cancer surgery and their health isn’t the best, being out in the bad weather could damage their health.”