Local autism advocates frustrated after Chili's cancels national fundraiser at last minute

SAN DIEGO - Local autism advocates say they're stunned after the restaurant chain Chili's made a last-minute decision to cancel a national fundraiser.

Leading up to the event, flyers trumpeted a partnership between Chili's and the National Autism Association. Customers who mentioned the fundraiser would have 10 percent of their checks donated to the drive.

However, one day before that planned fundraiser, Chili's made the decision to cancel it.

"I'm disappointed," said Beth Selbe, the local advocacy chair for the autism group Autism Speaks.

Selbe, whose 21-year-old son Thomas is autistic, added, "Kids with autism should not be affected funding-wise … by the vaccine issue."

Numerous Facebook posts blasted statements on the National Autism Association's website, including, "vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in some ..."

While some parents of autistic children point to anecdotal proof of a link, the possibility has been widely discredited in the scientific community.

On Facebook, one parent worried about an increase in unvaccinated children called the restaurant chain's support of the group "unforgivable."

Another posted, "Come for dinner stay for pertussis."

Chili's canceled the event, citing feedback from their guests.

"It's their brand, their company, their reputation. I think they did the right thing," said Chili's customer Andre Davis.

Other customers say the move was a bad one.

"It's not a good thing. What kind of message does that send that you bail out [at] the last minute?" said customer Joanna Alvarado.

Since the cancelation, there have been message of support along with backlash from the other side.

One Facebook post read, "Shame on you Chili's. I am a mom with two kids on the spectrum ... another reason why I will never step foot in a Chili's."

Chili's says it will find other ways to support the autism issue.

The head of National Autism Association told the Associated Press she was "shocked" by the initial backlash to hold the fundraiser.

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