Niagara-on-the-Lake loves its cadets.
And the community demonstrated that again on Saturday, Jan. 8, as mountains of bottles were donated to the 809 Newark Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron’s bottle drive.
“We’re raising money for the cadet squadron, for the kids to have money to do their field training exercises or go on field trips,” parent Kimberly Abt said in an interview at Van Noort Florists.
Bottles were dropped off by residents at the St. Davids Lions Club, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 124 and Cornerstone Community Church, and then transported to Van Noort's to be organized.
The cadet bottle drop off is organized by the parents of the Newark Squadron’s members to help pay for activities over the coming year. With COVID restrictions, the cadets weren't able to participate.
Abt was working hard with her husband Cory, the squadron’s chair, and other volunteers to organize the thousands upon thousands of bottles donated throughout the day.
Bottles will be picked up and counted by the Beer Store sometime this week, Cory said.
In the bottle drop off's 15-year history more than $50,000 has been raised. That’s about $3,300 per year, he said, and the weekend blitz totalled just under $3,500.
Cory and Kimberly are strong believers in the cadet program, having seen it transform the life of their 18-year-old son, Spencer.
After six years as a cadet, Spencer has enrolled in the aviation technician and aircraft maintenance program at Canadore College in North Bay.
“He came home from the cadet summer camp and said, ‘This is what I want to do,’ ” Kimberly said.
Cory thinks the program has had a profound impact on his son and 15-year-old daughter Emily.
“It’s immeasurable. I mean, the confidence, their speaking, you can really see the effect. They pick up skills, even weird skills like shooting air rifles or starting a fire in the rain,” Cory said.
“Their training programs are incredible, just fantastic. My son, it changed his whole focus in life and what he wanted to do.”
The summer training program has been affected by COVID-19, resulting in virtual programming for cadets.
“But, normally, the cadets would go away between two to six weeks in the summer” and train at Canadian Forces Base Borden in Simcoe County, he said.
Kimberly and Cory do not see the program as a recruiting arm of the military but are happy if any cadets decide they want to pursue a career with the armed forces.
A few NOTL cadets have gone that route, but not many, Cory said.
The couple see the program as an important way for young Canadians to build character, learn valuable skills and gain discipline.
“I can’t speak highly enough of this program,” Kimberly said.
“My son and my daughter and the opportunities that it’s given them to feel comfortable in themselves, to learn things that otherwise I don’t think they would learn, it’s incredible.”
It’s not all about learning how to build a fire and fix a plane with the cadets. There are some practical and important skills being taught in the program.
“They have to learn how to do their own laundry and be independent. It’s a good start for families that are going to have kids going away to university or college because they learn in a controlled environment,” she said.
Traditionally, the bottle drive was done by going door-to-door to see if NOTLers had a stash of empty beer, wine or liquor bottles the cadets could take.
“We like the door-to-door because it’s interactive with the public,” Cory said.
Due to the pandemic, bottles have been getting dropped off by individuals at several collection sites instead.
COVID has brought its own unique benefits.
“The funny part is that we were always short of boxes and we were always scrambling to get enough,” Cory said.
He said there is no shortage of boxes now since people have been buying large quantities of alcohol during the pandemic.
“That’s 100 per cent true,” Cory said with a laugh.
Cory thinks the drop off format will continue in the future but says there may be room for a hybrid bottle drive.
The bottle drop off is purposefully held after the holidays since it’s one of the busiest times of the year for alcohol sales, Cory said.
With that idea in mind, the next bottle drop off will be held after the May long weekend, he said.
Donations pretty well matched previous collections, despite COVID-19 restrictions increasing last week.
It’s “very much appreciated that the Niagara area has supported us, especially through COVID. We’ve been able, with the parents, to continue through this and raise a lot of money for the cadets so that they can do some really awesome things in the future,” Kimberly said.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report