By Don Teague Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/13/2004 7:44:14 PM ET 2004-12-14T00:44:14

For more than 100 years the sound of Christmas in America has been from an army of bell ringers raising money for the Salvation Army.

For Willie Pickett in Atlanta, it's also about spreading Christmas cheer.

"I just love making people smile," says Pickett, a frequent bell ringer.

But even if Pickett’s kettle brings in record donations this year, the Salvation Army, as a whole, expects to fall far short of its goal because this year Target has banned Salvation Army kettles from all its 1,300 stores.

The company says it's simply enforcing existing rules against solicitation, but it's a move the Christian-based charity says will cost it $9 million.

"That's a major part of our fund-raising throughout the year," says Maj. George Hoosier, the Salvation Army's general secretary in Georgia. "So we're gonna take a hit ... not only at Christmas ... but with the rest of our services throughout the year."

And it may cost Target as well — some other big chains are now publicly welcoming Salvation Army bell ringers. And 5,000 clergy members, like Sarasota pastor David Anderson, are urging churchgoers to boycott Target.

"I don't plan to buy another thing at Target until they change their policy toward the Salvation Army," says Anderson. "It's an attack against American tradition. The Salvation Army is a part of Americana."

And supporters say it is critical in efforts to feed the hungry, lift up the poor and respond to natural disasters like this year’s hurricanes.

Target officials declined an interview, but in a statement point out their stores give "more than $100 million a year" directly to charities — including the Salvation Army.

Target isn't the only chain that prohibits solicitation. You won't find bell ringers at Best Buy, Home Depot or Barnes and Noble either.

Still, Target officials used to make an exception for those famous red kettles.

"I love Target, but they're not going to get my business this season," says one Atlanta shopper.

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