MEDINA, Ohio - An image of a Marine collecting donations for Toys For Tots has gone viral in northeast Ohio—and nationwide—but not for the reason you may think.
John Harkness, 69, has made an annual tradition of collecting the donations at a Medina Walmart for the last 14 years.
But this year, the store told him he would have to solicit donations 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 manager met with Harkness and his wife, Lynn Harkness—who runs the county's Toys for Tots program—last week and informed them that the donations would have to be taken outside the store due to new management and store policy.
A woman visiting the store noticed John Harkness outside in his full dress blues and snapped a photo—which quickly spread across Facebook.
The store's Facebook page has dozens of posts from people criticizing the store manager's decision and vowing never to shop there again.
The photo also included the store manager's name, photo and phone number, which has reportedly resulted in death threats to the manager and her family.
newsnet5.com has blurred that information.
Though the people spreading the photo on Facebook are on the Harkness' side, the couple said that they don't support the vitriol it's spurred. "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," said Lynn Harkness.
Of course, the Harknesses said that they will resume their post—even outside the store.
"If they let us. Why not? This is for the kids. Not about us," said John Harkness.
The Medina County Toys for Tots program expects to give toys to more than 1,700 kids this Christmas. If you'd like to donate, CLICK HERE.
Walmart released the following statement to newsnet5.com Sunday:
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 4500 stores does not allow this type of solicitation inside our stores and we apologize for any confusion about this policy. Most importantly, we are proud to support wonderful organizations like Toys for Tots, Girls and Boys Scouts, the Salvation Army, and the Red Cross who are stationed outside our stores during the Holidays and other times. Finally, Walmart’s support of our men and women in uniform 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.
Download the newsnet5 app: