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Wells Fargo, TD turn away Toys for Tots donation boxes

They're a familiar sight this time of year: Toys for Tots collection boxes where folks can drop off new, unwrapped Christmas toys for needy children.

You won't see them at many banks anymore, though, as smaller banks have been gobbled up by megabanks. This year, two banks, TD and Wells Fargo, told Toys for Tots to remove the boxes from their west Pasco branches after volunteers put them there.

The order drew harsh words from John Durkin, the charity's west Pasco coordinator and a retired Marine who now works as a pilot for Delta Air Lines.

"These bankers have no problem taking our money and enriching themselves and have no problem telling us to 'Let them eat cake,' " he said, adding that the banks received billions in a government bailout and that Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf took home $17.5 million in total compensation last year.

"I know Mr. Stumpf doesn't give a damn about people who have nothing," he said.

Wells Fargo reported in 2009 that it repaid the $25 billion it received in federal bailout money.

Corporate spokeswoman Kathy Harrison confirmed that the bank has a no-solicitation policy that has been in place for the past couple of years.

"We feel this policy is in the best interest of our customers who visit our stores (branches) in order to take care of their financial business," she said.

At year's end, she said, the bank will have invested at least $1.4 million in support of nonprofits and schools in the Greater Gulf Coast region.

"In addition, our team members made individual contributions of more than $530,000 during this year's annual Community Support and United Way campaign," she said.

Grants also were awarded to the Kids Wish Network Holiday for at-risk children in need of clothing, educational and health-related products; the Sertoma Speech & Hearing Foundation for hearing screening for 12,000 students in the Pasco County school system; and the Pasco Education Foundation.

Durkin said he used to put donation boxes in the banks when they belonged to Mercantile and Wachovia. But that changed this year after those companies became part of bigger banks.

"We don't dispute their right not to support us. We're not asking for a donation," Durkin said. "We're talking about just having some boxes in the lobby."

One Wells Fargo branch has allowed the collection boxes.

"We do it because we want to help," said Josh Mitchell, a personal banker at the San Antonio Wells Fargo branch, which is part of the East Pasco Toys for Tots drive that is headed by Bob Loring. "My manager is very community minded."

Loring said he hasn't had trouble finding distribution sites.

"If they don't want to help us, we consider it their loss," he said. Loring said his drive drew 4,100 donations last year, and he hopes to collect 4,500 to 5,000 this time around.

Durkin, who sent critical emails to Toys for Tots officials and copied them to U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, said TD responded and offered to meet with him about the situation.

TD spokeswoman Rebecca Acevedo confirmed that a meeting has been set for Friday.

"We'll see how we can work together," she said.

A list of dropoff sites appears on the Toys for Tots website, but hasn't been updated recently. It lists one site as SunTrust in Zephyrhills, but the bank hasn't accepted toy donations for about seven years, SunTrust spokeswoman Kathy James said.

"That may have been true when we were independently owned," she said. But the bank set the no-box policy for consistency's sake.

"Calls would be coming out of the floodgates" if it were allowed, she said.

James said the bank supports charities by providing donations and volunteers.

"They're a very worthy cause," she said of Toys for Tots.

Durkin said last year's west Pasco drive brought in 10,000 toys.

This year, with the county's unemployment rate still in the double digits, he hopes to double or triple that.

But he said donations are down so far.

"It's pretty gruesome," he said.


Annual letter carrier toy drive

Toys for Tots draws a substantial share of its toys from the annual letter carrier drive, which is Saturday. Donors may leave a new, unwrapped toy beside the mailbox and postal workers will bring it to Toys for Tots. Toys for Tots is a nonprofit program founded in 1947 by the Marine Corps Reserve. Supporters have included Toys "R" Us, the National Football League, the U.S. Postal Service, and local Rotary clubs and civic groups.

Wells Fargo, TD turn away Toys for Tots donation boxes 11/29/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 8:44pm]
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