Counterfeit Patriotism

Counterfeit Patriotism

April 16, 2011

Please note – the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

There is a local Lexington restaurant, which we will call “Swindler’s” that might have a few good meals on the menu, but I’d rather eat a lousy tasting meal in a place where integrity guides the business.  To think that a restaurant would take advantage of a small, local charity to get a few more customers in the door to make a few extra dollars is nothing short of criminal.  In fact, according to Kentucky Law – KRS 517.030, a crime has been committed. The law states that “a person is guilty of false advertising when, in connection with the promotion of the sale of or to increase the consumption of property or services, he knowingly makes or causes to be made a false or misleading statement in any advertisement addressed to the public or to a substantial number of persons.” False advertising is a Class A misdemeanor.

Recently Military Missions had the opportunity to participate in a so-called fundraiser with “Swindler’s” Restaurant.  We were very excited at the opportunity because we are a very small charity and we do not pay to advertise.  We rely solely on word-of-mouth advertising and utilize social networks such as Facebook and Twitter which can be used free of charge. We are a 100% volunteer based organization and we operate on a shoestring budget.

“Swindler’s” states on their website that they are pleased to offer their “Give Back Monday” program in which “one Monday of each month is dedicated to raising awareness of local charities in need.”  It is stated, “For guests who visit us on Give Back Mondays, ten percent of their dining bill will be donated to charity.”  It’s easy to get the process started. There is an online submittal form if your charity organization is interested in participating.

Our first correspondence with “Swindler’s” was via email through a marketing representative at a local agency.  The agency’s representative stated the following: “We could offer 10 percent of the dining bill per customer as a donation to your organization.”

A few days later we met with the marketing representative, as well as the owner of “Swindler’s” Restaurant.   We were told that “Swindler’s” would “give back” 10% of the dining bill per customer, as well as advertise and contact the local media to get the word out.    They even said they would put out a donation box and encourage customers to donate items which could be included in our care package mailings because they were so grateful for the sacrifice and service of our military families.  We agreed that we would also put the word out on our website, our social networks, and send an announcement to everyone on our email list.

We did our part, recruiting Military Missions supporters to come in and dine at “Swindler’s” on Give Back Monday.  Our volunteers set up the information table and we had representatives on hand should anyone want to inquire about our organization.  We were glad to see many of our supporters come in and dine at “Swindler’s” that day to show support for our organization and for our deployed troops.

Unfortunately, as the day dragged on, we began to realize that we had been duped.  “Swindler’s” never did much advertising for the event.  They put the word out on their blog and they put the word out on their Facebook page beginning a couple of days prior to the event, but that was about the extent of it.  Apparently, they were counting on Military Missions to get the word out about the event.

When we arrived at the restaurant on the morning of the event, only one employee seemed to even know why we were there.  He was very apologetic that things were so disorganized. The owner and marketing rep were nowhere to be found.  We set up our information table and awkwardly sat down wondering what was actually expected of us.  Looking around at the tables we saw flyers for St. Patrick’s Day which had come and gone, and realized that the word of mouth advertising we had done was far more reaching than anything done by the restaurant.

As the day went on, “Swindler’s” never did put out a donation box, and it is my belief that very few people dining that day knew about the “event” unless they happened to read the sign on their way in the door.  We spent a very long day sitting in the restaurant and never had one person come by to ask us about our organization as our information table went by unnoticed.

We dined at “Swindler’s” for lunch and for dinner, spending a total of $125.00 for the two meals.  We also left a 20% tip as a gesture of our appreciation for what we had hoped was going to be a generous act on the part of “Swindler’s” Restaurant.

Late in the evening, we finally cleaned up our information table and headed home.  While it was apparent the event had not helped us to get the word out about our organization, we figured that the donation of 10% of the dining proceeds would be a help in paying for postage costs for the next care package mailing.

After about two weeks and no contact from “Swindler’s”, one of our organization’s representatives contacted “Swindler’s” to find out when we might receive our check for 10% of the dining tabs taken in on Give Back Monday.  At first our calls were not returned, but we did finally make contact with the owner.  He said we could stop by and pick up the check.

There is no way to describe the complete and total shock we felt when we realized that the check we had been issued by “Swindler’s” was for $71.61.  Yes, SEVENTY ONE DOLLARS AND SIXTY ONE CENTS!!  We figured that there must be some sort of mistake, but when we asked the restaurant owner, he simply responded, We said we were giving you 10% of the profits above what we normally make on an average Monday of business.”  No further explanation was given.

Doing the math, apparently we are getting credit for bringing in $716.10 worth of additional business that day.  I have to wonder if we might have brought in far more than that considering that I personally spent $125 on food as well as giving another $25 for the tip that day in his restaurant.  I’m aware of quite a few people who dined at “Swindler’s” that day to benefit Miltary Missions.  Frankly, I’m almost certain that the people who came in that day on our behalf would have far preferred to donate the money spent on their meal to our organization.  They could have eaten a peanut butter sandwich at home, and donated money spent for their “Swindler’s” meal to help offset postage costs needed to send packages to our deployed troops, all the while getting a tax deduction.

What kind of “giving back” is being done by the owner of “Swindler’s” Restaurant, if he is conning charities to bring him more business than he would normally have on a slow Monday?

We didn’t get anything in writing when we made the arrangements to participate in “Swindler’s” Give Back Monday because we assumed that the restaurant would live up to what they offered in the initial email, what was stated verbally at our meeting, what was stated on the sign at their front door and the statements that still exist on their website as this is being written.  We have worked with other restaurants in the past and the generosity extended to us was overwhelming.  Maybe I’m just naive, but my mind simply doesn’t work that way.  It would never occur to me that anyone would try to make a buck off our little nonprofit and that I would have to demand to have something in writing to get the promised 10%.

Even more criminal than violating KRS 517.030 is simply the fact that men and women are serving overseas, in harm’s way, so that Americans like “Swindler’s” owner can live in a free country and stick it to the little nonprofits of the land. This man obviously takes the freedoms he has been given here in the good old USA very lightly.  He wasn’t the least bit interested in “giving back” to the troops who are currently standing in harm’s way so he can run his own business in a free nation.  He could care less that thousands of troops give their lives, or return home injured, just so he can open his restaurant doors every day.

As we sat in “Swindler’s” Restaurant on Give Back Monday, Cpl Brandon S. Hocking, 24, of Seattle, Wash., died in As Samawah, Iraq, when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.  Cpl Hocking gave his life that day, so people like “Swindler’s” owner can continue to live the American Dream at someone else’s expense.

Names and documentation of proof can be provided on a “need to know” basis.  If you need to know, just ask.  If you want to make sure that no one else gets duped, and you want to show some REAL respect and gratitude for our troops standing in harm’s way, please pass this along to everyone you know.  Let’s get rid of counterfeit patriots.

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