Local charities are cautioning Tri-Citians to make sure their donations go where they intend.
Second Harvest Tri-Cities and the Benton-Franklin Chapter of the American Red Cross issued that reminder after hearing that a group is reportedly claiming to collect money for them.
Dani Porter of Richland said a member of Pasco's Missionary Church of the Disciples of Jesus Christ approached her outside the Richland Walmart recently and told her they were collecting donations for local food banks and the Red Cross.
The white-clad missionaries typically are seen on street corners in the Tri-Cities, collecting donations in cans. The Herald reported last year that it was difficult to tell exactly where that money is going.
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Porter said she was suspicious and called Second Harvest Tri-Cities.
Second Harvest Tri-Cities director Kathye Kilgore said Porter's call is the first time she has been told that Missionary Church members allegedly are claiming to collect money for local food banks.
Kilgore said she isn't aware of the group helping Second Harvest or any of the 55 food banks in Benton and Franklin counties that Second Harvest works with.
Jeanne Jelke, executive director of the Benton-Franklin Chapter of the American Red Cross, said if the group is collecting money for them, they are doing it without the chapter's knowledge.
The Pasco Missionary Church did not respond to Herald calls about the issue.
When the Herald talked to Thelma Zuria, a Missionary Church senior evangelist last year, she said the missionaries take food to the needy. Some of the statements she made, including that the missionaries help distribute toys with Toys for Tots and volunteer in local hospitals and jails, did not check out.
After an interview last year, the Herald was unable to reach anyone associated with the church despite repeated calls.
Approval for charitable and civic organizations for fundraising outside of Walmart stores is provided at the discretion of store management, said Kayla Whaling, Walmart spokeswoman.
Walmart is looking into the complaint at the Richland Walmart and will work with the store to make sure policies and procedures are followed.
Allowing charities and civic groups to solicit outside stores is one of the ways Walmart tries to support the local community, she said.
Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb said Richland police checked into the complaint and did not find that the group is misrepresenting how collections are used.
Church members said they were collecting for their mission and occasionally contribute to some local food bank groups, Cobb said. As long as they say occasionally, if they donate a can of food, a loaf of bread or quarter that would count and not be fraudulent, he said.
Kennewick Police Commander Scott Child said law enforcement gets involved when solicitors enter the street and obstruct traffic.
If solicitors come to someone's door in Kennewick, they need to have a solicitor's license, Child said. If they don't have a photograph ID from the city, people need to contact the police department.
It is a crime to solicit door to door without a license in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.
When people give, they should make sure their donations will go to the right place, Kilgore said. Second Harvest Tri-Cities does have ongoing food drives, but doesn't have anyone standing in front of stores collecting money.
And when the Season of Giving with Yokes fundraiser occurs, volunteers will be inside Yokes Fresh Markets asking for donations for Second Harvest, she said.
Second Harvest Tri-Cities is extremely low on donations right now, she said. Although some are coming in, it isn't at the rate of previous years.
Donations for the Red Cross chapter have been slow this fall, she said. But the Red Cross does have the Turkey Trot coming up, which has become its largest fundraiser of the year.
The Tri-City community is very generous, but people should make sure that they know who they are giving to and where the money is going, Child said.
"I've never seen a community that gives like this," he said.
* The best way to donate to Second Harvest Tri-Cities is to mail a donation to P.O. Box 6166, Kennewick, 99336, or drop it off at the Second Harvest Tri-Cities warehouse, 810 E. Chemical Drive, Kennewick.
* The best way to donate to the local Red Cross chapter is online at www.inwredcross.org or by sending the donation to the chapter at 7202 W. Deschutes Ave., Kennewick, 99336.