The Royal Canadian Legion’s annual Poppy Campaign poppies. This year the fundraising effort was mixed for local legions which have suffered from financial strain due to COVID-19. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Mixed year for local legions during annual poppy campaign

Some find success, some struggle amidst the pandemic

It was a mixed year for legions within the Comox Valley following their annual poppy campaign earlier this month.

Expectations across the area were low given the COVID-19 pandemic and limited access to retail locations and volunteers, explained Kent Gulliford of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 160 in Comox.

“The campaign did start – and I’m going to use the cliche – in unprecedented times. It relies on volunteers and we had no expectations, but we were pleasantly surprised.”

Generally, the legion relies on in-person volunteers at various locations throughout the Town of Comox, particularly at the Comox Centre Mall, but there was no opportunity for that, Gulliford noted. Additionally, their campaign aimed to minimize trips to merchants who had poppy boxes available for donations.

“Our big concern was that our demographic would be most challenged (in getting out), and we were hopeful that we were just able to cover costs. Everyone is struggling … but we had just such an incredible response from the community.”

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Gulliford said their branch is always happy when they can reach about $15,000 during a campaign; last year they reached $18,000. This year, however, they set their sights lower – he admitted $12,000 was their goal.

That was, until, the legion started to get reports back of people coming to the branch office to drop off donations. He said it was noticeable the branch distributed fewer poppies, and therefore they believed fewer donations would come through.

Once members starting tabulating donations, they were very surprised by the total.

“We just couldn’t believe it. We received over $19,000 in community donations. We’re so grateful, and with everything that’s going on in the world, it’s so incredible,” described Gulliford. “We are over-the-moon grateful.”

Funds raised by the campaign are held in trust and are used to support veterans through grants for food, housing medical equipment; comforts for those in hospital; support of cadet units and much more.

At the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 17 in Courtenay, members faced similar challenges for fundraising.

Member Robert McDiarmid who assisted with organizing the campaign said they were understaffed due to an aging membership fearful of COVID-19.

“We were only able to cover about a third of our usual locations (grocery stores, liquor stores, big box and so on). The first week the weather was pleasant and we were able to cover a few shifts (at grocery stores and other retail outlets).”

McDiarmid said during the second week as the weather turned, they were restricted to Costco and Wal-Mart because they allowed members to be inside.

“In total, we had 50 volunteers contribute two or more hours each which included about 10 private citizens who came forward on their own to help out. We also had fewer in-store tribute boxes distributed.”

The total amount raised was not available by deadline.

In Cumberland at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 28, Ward Harrison noted the pandemic also took its toll on their poppy campaign.

Similar to the Courtenay branch, Harrison said the weather also played a role in the lower amount of donations this year. Additionally, they were unable to get the assistance of cadets to help fundraise, but he did add membership renewals for the branch are up overall.

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