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Mills Fleet Farm reverses ban on Salvation Army red kettles

A veteran of 28 years as a Salvation Army bell ringer, Michele Stepanek smiled T

Mills Fleet Farm Tuesday reversed an “unfortunate decision” it had made to ban the Salvation Army’s red kettles from its store entrances this holiday season.The decision means the familiar holiday bell ringing will greet Mills customers.

“In an attempt to continue our longtime support of the Salvation Army we decided this year to make direct donations instead of allowing bell ringers on our property to conduct their red kettle fundraising drives,” Vice President Stewart C. Mills III, said in a statement. “We felt that this would immediately benefit the local Salvation Army chapters in the communities we operate stores. We were wrong. Our customers have spoken and in addition to the money that we donated, they feel the red kettles and ringing bBells raise awareness of those in need in our community.

“The Salvation Army and their mission is an integral part of the Christmas season. In an attempt to do something positive we alienated the communities that we serve, for that we apologize. We are reversing our decision and will be happy to see the Salvation Army volunteers in front of our stores soon. We are in the process of informing the Salvation Army of our decision to change course.”

Mills III said the original ban would have allowed Salvation Army bell ringers to be redeployed to other areas as the corporation made undisclosed donations to Salvation Army units in each of the more than 30 locations where it has stores.

“Our customers ... They want Christmas,” Mills said by phone.

The Salvation Army has rung bells at Mills Fleet Farm in earlier years, he said.

Capt. Scott Strissel of the Brainerd Lakes Corps could not be reached Tuesday after Mills reversed its decision.

Earlier Tuesday he said he was disappointed at the corporation’s initial decision to ban the bell ringers but was quick to point out that Mills has been very kind and supportive of the Salvation Army.

Strissel said donations in the red kettle campaign were off to a slow start in the Brainerd area. He said the Salvation Army is about $10,000 behind last year’s effort.

“We are asking the public to help us in our campaign through generous contributions and also through the giving of their time at our kettle locations,” Strissel said in a news release. “Donations may currently be down right now but we are confident that public support will help us change this troubling trend at our red kettles.”

Anyone interested in ringing bells may call 829-1120 and ask for Deb or Linda.

Mills said the decision will be reviewed next year. Both the corporation and his family have supported the Salvation Army for years and he encouraged others to support the red kettle campaign. He described this year’s decision to make contributions while declining to host the bell ringers as a better way of supporting the Salvation Army.

In an Associated Press story Co-President Stewart Mills Jr. told WAOW TV in Wausau, Wis., that allowing the bell ringers could open the floodgates to others who want to use the company’s property.

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at or at 855-5860.

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860