Legion branches set to 'take a hit' as COVID-19 wilts poppy campaign

·2 min read
Legion branches set to 'take a hit' as COVID-19 wilts poppy campaign

As Remembrance Day approaches, legion branches in Ottawa and across the country are worried COVID-19 will affect how much money they can raise through the annual poppy campaign.

The poppies, which are given out each November, usually bring in between $15 and $20 million in donations for veterans' programs, according to The Royal Canadian Legion.

The campaign is led by legion volunteers, usually at public places like grocery stores and shopping malls.

This year, however, legion branches are preparing to run their campaigns with less help than normal — and rely more heavily on donation boxes — as some volunteers who are older or at higher risk for COVID-19 choose to take the year off.

"You never know what you're going to run into with this COVID, so some of them have said they'd rather not [participate]. And it's completely understandable," said Garry Beaupre, president of the Montgomery Legion in downtown Ottawa.

Downtown legion missing federal workers

Beaupre said his branch usually has around 60 volunteers each year, but this fall they're down to about 20 — although he was able to recruit some younger people who have been helping a lot.

One unique issue for his downtown legion, he said, is that they count heavily on federal civil servants to make donations while they're at work downtown.

The pandemic, however, means many of those employees are now working remotely.

CBC
CBC

"Probably 50 to 60 per cent of our donations came from the government," Beaupre said. "Our average was somewhere between 80 and 100,000 [dollars] last year for the whole campaign."

Beaupre said his branch is lucky to have some reserve funds, so he doesn't think their programming will be affected too badly.

'Downsizing right across the country'

The pandemic is forcing the Royal Canadian Legion to get creative to get the fundraising job done, with the national office distributing a new touchless pay machine that's designed to help people donate while they observe physical distancing rules.

"You just flash your card in front of the box and you make a two-dollar donation," said Tom Irvine, dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion.

"We're coming up with ingenious ideas across the country, depending on your area and the health concerns for that area."

One example of a creative workaround could be seen in Orléans on Saturday and Sunday, where volunteers held a drive-thru donation campaign.

Despite the various innovations this year, Irvine is still worried that fundraising efforts will fall short of previous years.

"I'm anticipating downsizing right across the country," he said. "We're hoping that because Canadians know that the legion is going to take a hit and the poppy fund is so important. We're hoping that Canadians are going to be generous this year."

The legion is also urging Canadians to donate online.