CREATED Dec 10, 2012 - UPDATED: Dec 11, 2012
SOUTH TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - It's a story that’s had KGUN9 News viewers reflect on their own faith and political beliefs. A new Wal-Mart opened on Tucson's south side and, according to Casa Maria soup kitchen, listed Casa Maria as the recipient of one of the retailer’s grants.
Casa Maria said it had actually refused the $2,000 check, sparking a debate. Now, a couple of weeks later, KGUN9 checked back and found part of that debate has turned into donations.
At the time, Casa Maria Catholic Worker Community board member Brian Flagg explained to KGUN9, “As Catholics and Christians, we thought that we couldn't just take the money because we feel that we need to make a statement that we feel Wal-Mart doesn't pay good wages, that they are anti-union and that they have a detrimental effect on the survival of small businesses and areas where they locate those big, huge stores.”
KGUN9 viewer "Bike Mike" reacted on the 9 On Your Side Facebook page, writing, "Jesus could feed many with very little. These folks ain't Jesus. They should have taken the donation."
"They have forsaken their purpose,” added viewer Jill Payne Siefers.
Others supported the South Tucson charity's decision.
Viewer Chuck Fitzner wrote, "Any move to do the right thing starts with one step, by one brave enough to take that step."
Flagg, along with the organization’s board, took that step. He's heard from both sides, and he didn't expect the decision to start a community conversation and a personal one.
“People need to be conscious about what's going on in the community, what's good for poor people -- working people, what's not and then act on it,” Flagg said. “You know, live out their convictions after they've thought about it and figure out what they know.”
Viewer William Hohmann echoed the sentiment, writing, "This is indeed [an] interesting story and one that makes you think of your own beliefs and how you would move if having to make a decision.”
Along with criticism, Flagg said support has come from Tucsonans, people across the country and within the organization.
“The homeless people and the poor people that eat here unanimously supported our decision. That felt good,” he said.
“I think it was a good thing to do,” said volunteer Gary Gill. “It was, as you used to say, a righteous thing to do. Stand up for justice.”
Volunteer César González explained the decision as he saw it: “Telling them in that way, 'Hey, you have to pay good wages to the people working for Wal-Mart.' It's a good way to say it. That's a very, very good decision.”
Another surprise arose: donations. KGUN9 asked and Flagg said he's received about three times what the Wal-Mart grant would've been, collecting around $6,000 from near and far. Many have specifically pointed out the reason for their donation.
Reporter Kevin Keen asked Flagg, “When those checks first started coming in, what was your reaction?” “I just give thanks to God for every day, having the people, the money, the food, the clothes that we get donated,” he answered.
KGUN9 reached out to Wal-Mart representatives, and the retailer declined to comment.