Members of the Abbotsford branch of the Royal Canadian Legion were appalled this week to discover that a woman posing as a legion volunteer made off with up to $3,000 in funds from the recent poppy campaign.
The legion first made the discovery on Tuesday, when volunteer drivers who arrived at local businesses to pick up poppy donation boxes were told the containers had already been collected.
The white plastic boxes contain poppies sold in recognition of Remembrance Day and include a slot for donations to be deposited. They were placed at businesses throughout the city, starting on Oct. 25.
Three legion volunteers began their pick-ups on Tuesday – the day after Remembrance Day – and discovered that five businesses had been hit over the weekend.
Staff at those locations all described the same scenario – a woman entering the business and claiming to be picking up the boxes on behalf of the legion.
By Thursday, the legion determined that another five boxes were missing, for a total of 10. The thefts occurred mainly along McCallum Road and Sumas Way at places such as gas stations and coffee shops.
Geoff Hosking, acting president of the Abbotsford legion, said the donations collected would have amounted to between $2,000 and $3,000. Last year, the campaign raised approximately $47,000 in Abbotsford.
Hosking said members were hurt by the theft.
“That money goes to a good cause … It’s like stealing from a church. What kind of people are these?” he said.
Abbotsford Police Const. Paul Walker confirmed Thursday that police are investigating the thefts at five businesses, although further details are still coming in, and more businesses could be involved.
“At this time, investigators are in the early stages of the investigation and are reviewing video from the various locations to obtain further information on the female suspect involved in these heartless thefts,” he said.
Images of the suspect – obtained from video footage at one of the businesses that was hit – have been circulating on social media.
Walker said Abbotsford Police, who did not release the images, have identified a suspect and are working with other jurisdictions that have had similar thefts, including Mission. The legion there has reported the theft of three poppy donation boxes, and the suspect in those cases was also a woman.
Hosking said the Abbotsford legion will be reviewing its procedures for the future handling of its poppy donation boxes, perhaps requiring all volunteers to carry photo ID identifying them as legion representatives.
Funds raised from the poppy campaign go into a fund to support veterans with costs such as hearing aids and eyeglasses. It also provides bursaries for their family members and helps support local army and air cadets.
The money raised in Abbotsford stays in the community.
Anyone with information about the thefts is asked to call the Abbotsford Police Department at 604-859-5225.
Donations to the poppy fund can be made at anytime through the Abbotsford legion, located at 2513 West Railway St. Phone 604-853-0569 for more details.