Community rallies around 20-year Wal-Mart cashier fired for giving hugs, price matching

ExploreMore popular and trending stories

A community in Missouri is rallying around a former Wal-Mart cashier who was  fired for giving customers hugs and price matching at least one item inappropriately.

Explore>> Read more trending stories

Frank Swanson, 54, was known to the customers at the Wal-Mart in West Plains, Missouri, for his friendly demeanor.

Swanson was fired April 2, just weeks shy of his 20th anniversary with the company. His bosses said the hugs he gave out to customers were inappropriate and that he broke store policy by price matching a gallon of sweet tea -- and saving a customer about 50 cents -- without having an advertisement for the discounted tea, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In a statement released to the newspaper, a Wal-Mart spokesperson said "part of being a cashier is making sure customers are paying for their merchandise before they leave the store; in many instances, this was not happening."

Swanson told the Post-Dispatch the company made it sound like he was "giving groceries away," but that wasn't the case.

"They said I was making the price up out of my head," he said.

On a Facebook page created in support of Swanson, dozens of people shared their outrage and stories of Swanson's kindness.

"Many yeas ago I was at Wal-Mart. I was going (through) a divorce and really feeling low, down on myself," Sharon Callahan said in a Facebook post. "Frank was at the register and looked at me and said 'you have really pretty eyes.' A simple thing many may not think was a big deal, but I have never forgotten. It was exactly what (I) needed that day."

In another post, Rose Franz Gondek said despite her discomfort dealing with crowded places like Wal-Mart, the best part of her visits was getting a hug from Swanson.

"I'd stand in his line 50 people back just to see him and get my hug," she wrote. "He'd always ask first, 'Is it okay if I give you a hug?' How could I say no? He gives the warmest, loving hugs! I wish every store and every restaurant in the U.S.A. had a Frank."

On April 9, crowds gathered outside the Wal-Mart in support of Swanson, holding signs that said "Hugs for Frank" and "Frank for President."

We love Frank & his Hugs!!

Posted by Debra Hayes on Saturday, April 9, 2016

Many supporters of Swanson also heaped criticism on Wal-Mart for its decision to let him go due to what they characterized as minor transgressions.

"You fired an advocate for your company that is loved by his community for hugging people who wanted (to be) hugged and for price matching a gallon of tea from $2.88 to $1.98, while your company makes billions of dollars in profit each year," Swanson's brother, Drexel Swanson, wrote on a GoFundMe page set up for Frank Swanson.

Drexel Swanson said his brother was a star football player in eighth grade, 38 years ago, when the siblings went with their grandfather to deliver a load of wood. The pair was standing in the back of their grandfather's truck when he took a sharp turn on the highway and Frank Swanson flew out of the back of the truck.

He had a fractured skull and spent the next six weeks in a coma. He suffered some brain damage and partial paralysis on his right side, Drexel Swanson said.

"His purpose in life since his accident has always been to make other people feel good about (themselves) and to bring a smile to their face(s)," Drexel Swanson said. "He loves to hug people, especially the older generation. He says they don't get enough hugs in their life."

Frank Swanson's popularity did pay off for him. Bobby Roberts, assistant store director of Ramey Supermarket, told KYTV the grocer actively recruited him after his dismissal.

"Frank is the real deal," Roberts told the TV station. "He's just genuine and people love him. He is just a great asset to this company."

His first day at the supermarket was Thursday.