Pandemic a factor as 2020 National Poppy Drive launches Friday

Poppy boxes will be at area businesses that have volunteered to take them

The Royal Canadian Legion’s (RCL) 2020 National Poppy Drive officially begins Friday, and the pandemic is being factored into this year’s fundraising.

There will be little, if any, soliciting for money outside most stores across the country.

“We have great cooperation from our Cadet Corps who go out to the different stores and canvass for us. That’s not going to happen because cadets are no longer able because of the COVID situation. They aren’t able to participate,” says Crystal Cook, RCL District E Commander, representing legion branches in Simcoe County.

“That was a huge chunk of volunteer hours that branches relied on.”

Cook says a lot of their Legion members are elderly, so going out to stores and canvassing for poppies is not a safe thing to do.

The Legion branch in Barrie raised about $140,000 during last year’s Poppy Drive, funds that are directed to the national branch of the RCL to continue programs for Veterans across the country.

“There will be nobody out there with poppy boxes campaigning for us. The only box out there will be the businesses who have volunteered to hold them for us and put them on their counters when people come by and drop in a donation,” says Fern Taillefer, the Poppy chairman for the Barrie branch of the RCL.

He says a woman dropped by their St. Vincent Street location this week with a $500 donation, which Taillefer called “unbelieveable.”

Back in July when Cook was reviewing the financial numbers for the branches in Simcoe County, she told Barrie 36 that most were holding their own, but a few were in jeopardy of closing if things didn’t turn around in the immediate future.

The provincial and federal governments have since announced funding to help Legion branches. Over $80 million through the Trillium Foundation, though Cook says what the Ford government put on the table wasn’t really useful for most of their branches. She says the funding put together programs to bring in people to their branches or do renovations.

“But if your doors aren’t able to open because you’ve got no money, you can put all the programs you want in place,” laments Cook. “And the process to get approved is going to cost us money.”

She says most anything to do with the Trillium grant needs, for the most part, statements done by auditors or chartered accountants, depending on how much money a branch is getting. Cook says audited statements could cost up to $7,000.

Ottawa announced funding earlier this month, which included a $20 million aid package for veterans’ groups across Canada before the end of the year. Cooks says they are still waiting for details.

“We’re basically surviving on whatever we’ve been able to do at our own level.”

At the Barrie branch, Taillefer says they are holding their own.

“We’re not hurting, hurting, hurting. But if we get another closure that’s really going to damage us big time.”

Money donated during the National Poppy campaign goes directly into a number of programs to support Veterans on a wide range of issues such as health care, processing government benefits, homelessness, and providing meals, however the funds do not get put back into the coffers of local branches.

Some people have started marketing their own Remembrance Day items online, which Cook believes is a honest attempt to support Legions across the country, and while the effort is appreciated, the poppy is a trademark.

“People have, you know, the best intentions. I would caution people to not contribute to those because there’s no safeguard to ensure that if I give you $10 because you are doing something nice to try and help the Legion that it’s actually going to make it there.”

There are many Remembrance Day items online, including a non-medical mask produced by the Legion in response to COVID-19.

The poppy campaign will kick off with an invitation-only ceremony at the Barrie legion branch Friday morning.