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Popular bell ringer banned from using boom box, can still ring at Walmart


MASSENA - Each year for the past seven holiday seasons, shoppers visiting the Walmart store here would often be greeted by a man singing and dancing as he was ringing the bell for the Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Campaign.

This year though, shoppers looking for that man, Carl Zender of Massena, won’t find him at Walmart, as the store’s corporate office made the decision to ban the use of boom boxes by bell ringers.

And while Mr. Zender is no longer ringing the bell at Walmart, Salvation Army Lt. Cynthia L. Crowsen said she wants to make one thing clear - “Carl is not banned from Walmart.”

“This was not a Massena decision at all, it was a national decision. There’s no music allowed at any Walmart locations nationwide,” she said. “It was a decision they made for the safety of all their employees, customers and our bell ringers.”

With the decision to not allow music coming from Walmart’s corporate office, Mr. Zender is still allowed to use his boom box, sing and dance, just not at Walmart.

“Carl has decided that since he likes singing and dancing, he will ring the bell some place else,” Lt. Crowsen said, adding his new bell ringing home is Price Chopper, where he also happens to work.

The decision to not allow boom boxes was made as part of an annual agreement between Walmart’s corporate office and the Salvation Army’s national headquarters.

“There are minor adjustments made to the agreement each year. This is just one that caught someone’s attention,” she said. “It’s nothing that’s anything out of the ordinary.”

Kayla Whaling, a Walmart spokesperson, said that while the use of boom boxes is banned, Mr. Zender could sing if he elected to return to Walmart as a bell ringer.

“We want to provide a pleasant, distraction free shopping environment for customers, and we want to provide them an environment that is free of cords, wires and the actual boom box itself, which could be a potential hazard for people entering or exiting the store,” Ms. Whaling said.

The decision has since led to a group of Mr. Zender’s friends, family and supporters to organize a protest tonight in front of Massena’s Walmart.

Sarah J. Boyea, who said she is “a distant cousin” of Mr. Zender, helped organize the event, which is being called “Caroling For Carl.”

A group of people will be meeting at the Home Depot this evening and walking to Walmart at 6 p.m., where they will then stand outside the store singing Christmas carols.

While the event is mostly in response to the no music rule, Ms. Boyea said there are other reasons for the event.

“Walmart makes them stand outside and that’s terrible. Those people stand out there freezing while they’re trying to help the community,” she said. “What harm is a boom box to anyone? If he can have a boom box at Price Chopper, why not Walmart?”

Although standing outside in the bitter cold may not seem pleasant, Lt. Crowsen said that is the norm for bell ringers everywhere. Price Chopper and St. Lawrence Centre do allow bell ringers there to stand in the foyer, but Lt. Crowsen said those two places are exceptions.

“It’s not just me, there was a group of us who helped put this together,” Ms. Boyea said, adding she was assisted by Todd Brown, Jessica Barney, Shelyn Peets, Brandi Paige and Melanie Smith, as well as Bob Rusaw, who she said brought the issue to the attention of the community.

“Walmart is a busy place and lots of people go there to shop,” Ms. Boyea said, adding Mr. Zender’s presence there was something that brought a smile to the face of people, who otherwise might not have much to smile about during the holidays.

“My grandmother (who is now a widow) has a hard time around the holidays, but every time I took her to Walmart, she would see Carl and laugh. He makes everybody laugh and smile.”

Lt. Crowsen said the Salvation Army is in no way supporting the protest, but both she and her husband, Lt. Russell Crowsen, will be at Walmart tonight.

“We are not supporting the event, but we will be there to support our bell ringers and Walmart,” she said.

“Walmart is one of the best organizations in terms of giving back to the Salvation Army,” Lt. Crowsen said, adding despite a corporate policy that limits solicitations to 14 days, the Salvation Army is allowed to have their kettles at Walmart stores each year from Black Friday through Christmas Eve.

Lt. Crowsen added she’s worried about the protest impacting their collection for this year.

“If we don’t get as many donations, we won’t be able to help as many people,” she said. “The money we collect during these two months helps us help the community all year-round.”

Ms. Boyea said the last thing she or anyone wants to do is hurt the Salvation Army.

“I’m totally for the Salvation Army, and I think by Walmart doing this it is taking donations away from them,” she said. “I would encourage everyone to stop at Price Chopper to see Carl sing and dance and while there donate to the Salvation Army.”

As for the planned protest, Ms. Whaling, who acknowledged seeing a Facebook page promoting the event, said that was something she would rather not comment on.

“We don’t even know if it will happen,” she said. “I would rather not comment on that.”

Ms. Whaling said she understand’s the store’s customers may miss Mr. Zender, but she wanted him and them to know he is welcome to ring at Walmart anytime.

“I know our customers in Massena enjoyed seeing Carl. He’s welcome to come back, and we hope he does,” she said, adding that Mr. Zender would be allowed to sing and dance, he would just have to do so a cappella without an assist from his boom box.

And that’s exactly what Mr. Zender did Friday night from about 6:30 to 8 p.m.

“I don’t have anything against Walmart or the Salvation Army,” he said. “All I want is for everybody to have a Merry Christmas. With the economy the way it is, everybody could use a little Christmas spirit.”

Mr. Zender said if he had his way the protest scheduled for tonight would not happen.

“I don’t want it to happen,” he said. “It’s nice that they’re backing me, but I don’t want any hard feelings for anybody.”

Mr. Zender said the holidays are meant to be fun and aren’t a time for protests.

“I don’t want anyone misusing Christmas. Christmas is a time for children and families, and everyone should be enjoying themselves.”

Lt. Crowsen added Mr. Zender, who is a paid bell ringer, will continue ringing at Price Chopper, where he can sing, dance, have his boom box and do things the same way he always has.

When asked why he was working a shift at Walmart Friday night, he said it was something the Crowsens asked him to do.

“I was asked to, but I don’t mind. There’s no hard feelings,” he said.

As for being a paid bell ringer, Lt. Crowsen said that takes nothing away from Mr. Zender’s commitment to the Salvation Army or his community.

“He is paid minimum wage for the hours he stands, but for all of the money he brings in it’s well worth it,” she said. “If he stands somewhere for five hours, the money he brings in is well over what we pay him.”

Lt. Crowsen said they have not spoken with any members of the public about Mr. Zender’s situation, but they would gladly speak with anyone who has any questions or concerns.

“The only person we have spoken with was Carl, and he understands it was a national decision,” she said, adding that she and her husband would also prefer to not see the protest happen.

“The Salvation Army appreciates the support of Carl and your support of the community,” she said. “However, we would most appreciate it you would use your giving spirit and sing carols at one of our Red Kettle locations to help raise money that helps us support our community year-round.”

To volunteer your time as a bell ringer, contact Lt. Crowsen at 600-7819.

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