Over 20 legion branches close permanently amid coronavirus, more ‘on the brink’

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Remembrance Day 2020: Justin Trudeau, wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau lay wreath at National War Memorial
Royal Canadian Legions across the country say the COVID-19 pandemic has battered their membership numbers and their bottom line. Kendra Slugoski has more from an Edmonton branch – Nov 11, 2020

As Canadians pay tribute to those who have served, the organizations tasked with supporting veterans are struggling to keep their doors open amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Just one day after the government announced a $20-million fund for various organizations supporting veterans, more than 350 branches of the Royal Canadian Legion remain “in deep trouble,” according to Nujma Bond, the communications manager for the Royal Canadian Legion.

In addition to that, she said more than 20 branches have closed permanently over the course of the pandemic.

Others, she said, are still “on the brink.”

And while Bond said the funds will play a huge role in keeping Legion doors open, she doesn’t know whether it’ll be enough to help all of them weather the storm – though she remains optimistic.

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“This funding will make a critical difference, we know that it will save some branches from closing their doors and hope it will allow others to continue to weather this pandemic longer-term,” said Bond.

She said the organization plans to get the announced funding to the branches in need as soon as possible.

Legion branches often raise funds through events, hall rentals and food service – activities which were abruptly halted or reduced as lockdowns and capacity limitations were instituted to halt the spread of the coronavirus across the country.

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More than 200K Remembrance Day masks across Canada sold to raise funds

Many branches have come up with creative fundraising tactics, such as selling masks or holding drive-thru poppy pickups, but the organization said in a Tuesday press release that it hasn’t been enough for the “long-term survival” of many branches.

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“Many are not sure how long they can continue,” read the release, which welcomed the news of fresh funding.

The Royal Canadian Legion said they plan to use the funds for operational needs, such as paying electricity bills.

Of the $20-million fund, more than $17 million will go to the Royal Canadian Legion, ANAVETS, True Patriot Love and VETS Canada. The rest will be available to other veterans organizations impacted by COVID-19, though they’ll have to apply to receive it.

“This fund is designed to help veterans’ organizations keep providing services,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a Tuesday press conference.

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Charleswood Legion on marking Remembrance Day during a pandemic

Before the announcement, the Royal Canadian Legion’s Dominion president Thomas Irvine wrote to the prime minister to ask for pandemic-related support on more than one occasion.

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He welcomed the announcement in a Tuesday press release, stating that it will help “many branches” to stay afloat.

“This funding will ensure many branches can stay alive, and keep doing the great work they do to help support our veterans and families, their communities and help us continue to promote remembrance,” Irvine said.

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