Royal Canadian Legion worried about donations as COVID-19 reduces number of poppy boxes in Alberta

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WATCH ABOVE: Many Calgarians are finding it harder to find a poppy this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, it's been tough on the volunteers and on fundraising efforts – Nov 8, 2020

Poppy boxes are something we expect to see at shops this time of year as Remembrance Day approaches. But the long reach of COVID-19 has hampered poppy sales too.

The concern this year is not only is the symbol of remembrance less visible but fundraising efforts are falling short as well.

Tammy Wheeler, the executive director of the Royal Canadian Legion Alberta-NWT Command, estimates only half the normal number of poppy boxes are out this year in Alberta.

“[There is a] huge effect because this is our one big push for the year. All the funds go to veterans,” Wheeler said.
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She said there isn’t as much room on counters for poppy boxes because many stores have installed partitions and some shops that used to take the boxes are closed.

Read more: Futuristic fundraising for a pandemic poppy campaign

The other problem is that elderly volunteers are being discouraged from distributing poppies in busy indoor places.

“Some of them can be in their 80s. They love that contact. They love sitting in the mall and some little kid coming up to them and saying, ‘Can I have a poppy?’ And then the conversation starts. So there’s not that connection,” Wheeler said.

Many volunteers have made the difficult decision to take a year off because of COVID-19, according to Wheeler.

“They are sad because to them being a legion member, this is what we do, and helping our veterans, this is our one fundraiser, so these folks are really upset. They look forward to this.”

Poppy boxes are available in schools and legions but military cadets aren’t handing out poppies this year.

“We really miss that too because that connection with the cadets is important to us and they do as well. We have heard from a number of cadet units who are really upset that we can’t do this,” Wheeler said.

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Read more: Whole Foods will let staff wear poppies after firestorm over ‘disgraceful’ ban

Calgary Co-op is one of the local stores that still has boxes along with local Safeway stores. Calgary Co-op CEO Ken Keelor said many stores are on their second run of boxes, with people relieved to be able to buy one or more poppies.

“I think that they are buying more this year and they are supporting more this year,” Keelor said. “I think everyone is realizing as little as we might have, we have a lot more than others who may have lost loved ones, whether it’s veterans who fought for us or whether it’s the current pandemic.

“We have two people who were in the military on our board and my dad fought in the Indian Air Force years ago, so I know what it feels like to know someone who has sacrificed their life for all of us,” Keelor said.

The Legion also introduced new touchless donation boxes and Albertans are being encouraged to make their donations online or through the text-to-donate options.

Last year, the Alberta-NWT command raised about $4 million during the campaign.

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