November 30, 2015 3:01 PM EST

An Ohio Walmart’s decision to bar a former active-duty Marine from collecting donations for a children’s charity inside the store has prompted outrage online.

John Harkness says he’s collected donations for Toys for Tots, a program from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve that gives toys to underprivileged youth for Christmas, at that location for almost 15 years, CBS reports.

But this year, a new store manager is enforcing a long-standing company policy, in place since around 2000, that does not allow charities to solicit donations inside. “They made us stay outside,” Harkness said.

Several upset customers have now complained about the policy on Walmart’s official Facebook page. An image featuring a photo of Harkness standing outside along with the words “He can bleed and die, but he can’t stand inside” has circulated online.

In a statement, Walmart said, “If a Marine or anyone was treated with disrespect, that is unacceptable and we are looking into this matter further to get the facts… corporate policy across our more than 4500 stores does not allow this type of solicitation inside our stores and we apologize for any confusion about this policy.”

Harkness says he’s received an outpouring of support—as well as sandwiches and coffee from strangers who see him collecting donations outside—as his story has made the news. “It’s encouraging, it’s fantastic, and it’s good to have the general public—veterans and non-veterans—support you,” he said.


More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Nolan Feeney at

You May Also Like