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Poppy campaign perseveres through pandemic

Fundraising for local legion stays steady, despite drop in number of donations, amid COVID-19 pandemic.

THUNDER BAY – Local residents and businesses stepped up with greater per person support to keep the Port Arthur Legion’s poppy campaign afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

Despite a smaller number of donations, campaign chair Sharon Scott reported Friday the legion, also known as Royal Canadian Legion Branch #5, was on track to match last year’s fundraising total of more than $15,000.

That total came despite COVID-19 concerns that limited not only participation in Remembrance Day ceremonies, but also traditional fundraising tactics: Some businesses turned down donation boxes, for example, while others declined to welcome volunteers on site (moves Scott said were understandable).

“We found that Thunder Bay citizens were very generous,” Scott said. “I think they took that into consideration.”

Some extra generosity helped make up for those lost dollars: Some businesses that turned down donation boxes instead gave up-front donations, while the ability to donate using the debit tap function at some businesses helped boost the campaign.

Volunteers also held a drop-in donation event outside of the legion to help make up for lost revenue sources.

The impact of COVID-19 on participation was noticeable – the legion had given out fewer than its usual 20,000 or more poppies – but looking back on an unprecedented year, Scott was grateful the community had stepped up to help the legion stay on track, financially.

“At first I wasn’t too sure how it was going to go, but we did pull it together. We did better than I expected.”

The money raised stays local, Scott said, and is used to support veterans with needs not covered by Veterans Affairs.

The fundraising success marks a bright spot in a year that proved difficult for veterans, whose ability to connect with one another was severely limited on a day of tremendous importance to the community.

“I felt an emptiness, because I couldn’t see the veterans from World War II,” reflected Scott. “I usually sit with them every Remembrance Day. It hurt not being able to connect with them.”