This past weekend was more than just Halloween, it was also the kick-off of the annual Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Campaign. It may come as a surprise to many people that the Legion does not receive government funding. Legions across the country, including the local Branch #195 here in Wakaw, support themselves through membership dues, hall rentals, fundraisers and donations. All money collected from poppy sales is deposited and held in trust in the Poppy Fund at every level of the Legion. These funds can only be used to assist former and serving service personnel and their dependents, which includes the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP and their families who are in need. Some approved uses are grants for food, heating, clothing, prescription medication, medical appliances and equipment, essential home repairs, educational bursaries for children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Veterans, accessibility modifications to assist Veterans with disabilities, and community medical appliances, medical training and medical research which will assist in the care of Veterans in the community.
From the Legion’s webpage, “The Royal Canadian Legion is committed to honouring and remembering all Veterans, whether they served in theatre or on Canadian soil, whether they kept the peace or fought for peace, whether they found themselves in combat or in support of operations.” Veterans of Canada from all wars; the South African War (also known as the Boer War), First World War, Second World War, Korean War, Persian Gulf War, and the Afghanistan War, are honoured and supported by the Legion. As well Veterans of the many peacekeeping missions Canada has played a role in can also find support and assistance from the Legion. After the Korean War, Canadian Forces for the next forty years, served mainly in peacekeeping missions. It was not until the Afghanistan War that Canadian forces were once again deployed in great numbers in a combat role. In peacekeeping operations troops carry only light weapons and only to use minimum force in self-defence and are deployed to conflict areas to keep combatant forces apart once a ceasefire has been called and diplomats work to find a political solution to the conflict. The peacekeeping mission in Cyprus is one of Canada’s longest military commitments. A large contingent of peacekeepers served in the island nation from 1964 to 1993, but a smaller contingent continues to maintain peace efforts there today.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit service clubs across the country hard as many of the traditional fundraising efforts involved gatherings which have been impossible this year. Legion branches across the country however have felt the pinch even more so. The membership of many, if not most, Legion branches, is comprised mainly of older adults with some being of very advanced years. Funds for the upkeep of local branch buildings and general operating costs such as utilities, is typically raised through liquor sales and meals, the rental of the facility for public events like wedding receptions, reunions, and of course Christmas parties and gatherings. None of those types of events have happened, but the bills still need to be paid. Branches across the country are hoping just to be able to pay the bills so they can survive to see the end of the pandemic. As one Legion member said, the Legion is usually the one helping others and now they are in a position of needing help.
At the beginning of October, a ray of hope came from the federal government. Bill C-4, also known as the COVID-19 Response Measures Act, has allocated $20 million for veterans' organizations that is expected to be distributed prior to the end of year. “While we don’t know how the funds will be administered yet,” the Royal Canadian Legion’s Dominion President Thomas Irvine stated, “we understand they can be used for operational costs and that’s what we’ve been waiting for. We are hopeful this will all happen soon, in time to save some Branches that are set to close, or to help those that still can’t reopen.” Irvine added, "This money that we get, every single penny, will go to the branches.”
This year the reminder, “Lest we forget” takes on a new urgency. We must not forget what the Legion stands for and who they represent. Donation boxes have been distributed to businesses in Wakaw and the surrounding communities and while across the country the Legion is expecting a smaller than average dollar figure for the Poppy Drive, it is possible to have the opposite happen if citizens seek out the donation boxes and give not what they have on hand, but actively plan what they will give. As we contemplate the sacrifice so many have made, may we all be moved to support those who remain.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder