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Salvation Army Fights Malls Over Its Kettles

Times Staff Writers

While actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, singer Jack Jones and a dozen other celebrities sang Christmas carols in Farmers Market on Friday to kick off the Salvation Army’s annual “kettle drive,” two of the army’s bell ringers were arrested in Northridge.

Capt. John Purdell, the Salvation Army’s San Fernando Valley commander, and Ray Chasse, a corps trombone player, were arrested for trespassing when they set up their kettles at the Northridge Fashion Center.

Army officials say malls and stores are increasingly denying them access to shoppers and by doing so are jeopardizing the group’s ability to raise money for the poor during the Christmas season.

So on Friday, as 700 kettles were set up in locations from San Diego to Santa Barbara, the Salvation Army decided to force the issue in some San Fernando Valley locations where they had previously been unwelcome.

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The Northridge mall was one, as were five Target stores, Topanga Plaza in Woodland Hills and two malls in North Hollywood.

“We have a policy on solicitations,” said Donald Lieberman, operations director for Northridge Fashion Center. “It applies not only to the Salvation Army but any other organizations for solicitation of funds.”

Lieberman placed Chasse and Purdell under citizen’s arrest when they refused to leave. The two were booked at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Devonshire substation in the shopping center and released pending a court appearance later next month.

Purdell vowed he would be back at the mall today. “We believe we have the legal right,” he said. Pedestrian areas in malls are the equivalent of street sidewalks, he contended, and in “the reality” of modern times, are used by more people. The Salvation Army has to fight for access, he said, because “we have to go where the people are.”

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The kettle drive is critical, said Lt. Col. David P. Riley, Southern California divisional commander. “We raise about $1.5 million in Southern California and that pays about half of our needs at Christmas time to carry out our work,” he said.

Riley said that about three years ago the Salvation Army began to find more stores refusing to let them solicit donations on their premises or even in the vicinity. And when funds raised by the kettle drive dropped 20% last year, Riley said he felt lack of access was to blame.

Although the problem exists throughout the region, the organization decided to make its stand Friday in the San Fernando Valley.

The reaction was mixed. The Topanga Plaza mall welcomed them. Officials at Laurel Plaza in North Hollywood seemed to ignore them, and those at Target stores made vague threats.

When volunteer Robert Barry set up his kettle outside the Target Store on Ventura Boulevard, a store official said he was trespassing and told him to “move on.”

“I didn’t know what I should do, so I stayed,” Barry said. “The manager just got in his pickup truck and left, and since then, they’ve left me alone.”

But that may not be the end of it. George Hite, Target’s vice president of public and consumer affairs in Minneapolis, said, “We will enforce whatever legal rights we have.” The company has not allowed fund-raising drives at any of their 351 stores nationwide since 1980, he said, due to the large number of groups wanting to solicit funds.

“Rather than decide who to favor, we don’t allow anybody,” Hite said.

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Salvation Army officials contend that their kettle drive should be treated differently. Riley said: “We do it so we can do the work. Nobody in the army benefits. We served 7,000 people (Thanksgiving dinner) yesterday right up until 10:30 p.m. Those are the people that benefit.”

At Laurel Plaza, army volunteers said they solicited donations without interference.

“We’re doing fine. People are generous,” Salvation Army volunteer Susan Vann reported outside a May Co. store

John Lyda, regional director for May Centers of America, which owns Laurel Plaza, denied that the Salvation Army had ever been turned away. “That was a misunderstanding on the part of the Salvation Army,” he said.

Lyda said his company is planning to offer the Salvation Army “promotions inside the mall,” but these don’t include letting in the kettles.

Northridge’s Lieberman accused the Salvation Army of “utilizing the press to stress a point,” and then made a point of his own.

“I’m prepared to invite them in to do a canned food drive,” he said. “I’ll even co-sponsor it.”

But no kettles.

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