Overwhelmed by check-out-line charity

Charity coupons in a check-out line at a Whole Foods store in New York City.

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TESS VIGELAND: The big charitable giving season is now over. It tends to end Dec. 31 as folks wrap up their year-end tax planning. But most charities would much rather hear from you throughout the year. In fact more and more of them are finding you with your wallet out and open at the checkout line -- supermarkets, pet stores, hotels. A dollar here and a dollar there can definitely add up.

But as Michael May tells us, there are some hidden costs.


David Fickeck: Would you like to make a donation to the KEYE food drive today? They're a $1, $5 donation or you can pick a bag over here we can gladly scan for you.

That's David Fickeck, a cashier and store director at the Randalls Supermarket in Austin, Texas. He does more than ring up groceries. He's a fundraiser.

Randalls supermarket is owned by Safeway, which does four national charity drives each year in its more than 1,500 stores. The regional chains, like Randalls, can elect to do other drives as well, like this one benefiting the food bank.

Connie Yates is director of public affairs for Randalls.

Connie Yates: It's very important to give back to the community. It's very important to be involved in charities that matter to our customers.

The drive raises $15,000 and about 10,000 pounds of food.

Kerri Qunell is with the Capital Area Food Bank. She says Randalls was the first supermarket to do a checkout charity drive in Austin.

Kerri Qunell: Since then there have been other programs that have blossomed in our community and across the country to replicate that. So it is becoming a more popular and more convenient way for grocery shoppers to be able to donate to their local food bank.

And all sorts of other charities. That can put pressure on workers, who have to do the asking.

Ron Lind is the president of UFCW Local 5, a union that represents supermarket employees. He told me that workers have complained about being pressured to solicit. And when I asked some Randalls shoppers what they thought of the checkout charity drive, they were divided.

Emily Hampton gives at the register, but doesn't like being confronted every time she shops.

Emily Hampton: Yeah, it does really put you on the spot. And when you say no, the people around you, in the back of the line, you're thinking, "They don't know how often I'm here!" We shop at Randalls quite a bit.

Last year, Safeway raised more than $50 million for causes like breast cancer and the Special Olympics.

Stacy Palmer is the editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. She says checkout charity programs have become popular during the recession.

Stacy Palmer: Certainly, any effort to tie charitable giving to shopping is a growing trend, in part because retailers want to find a way to persuade people to buy.

Palmer says checkout fundraising gives charities access to millions of potential givers. But she says there are drawbacks.

Palmer: When you make a donation in response to a direct mail appeal or a telephone thing, they can call you back, they can ask you again and again. And that's really how charities raise a lot of money. So the downside of this for the charity is that they don't have a way to reach you again.

That is, until you need more groceries.

In Austin, I'm Michael May for Marketplace Money.

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