By: Michelle Poirier

Preserving Georgina’s military heritage could prove challenging if the Sutton Legion and Georgina Military Museum are forced to shutter their doors forever.

Both not-for-profit organizations are struggling financially after four months of being closed due to COVID-19.

And their major fundraising events have been either cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic.

Sid Giddings, Georgina Military Museum President, was forced to cancel Military Day this year, which is the museum’s largest fundraising event.

“The Town gives us a grant every year. That only covers a part of our expenses. The rest is from attendance, donations and our Military Day. Any other funds have just dried up 100 per cent. We are getting a little concerned,” he said.

According to Mr. Giddings, the museum is currently only spending money on rent, hydro and gas, but it is operating at a deficit.

And, despite Mr. Giddings and one other volunteer working on getting exhibits ready, he said it would be difficult to re-open on short notice.

“If we were told to open tomorrow, we couldn’t because we’re not ready. Within a week, we could be open with a sustained effort, but even then, there’s a lot of concern from volunteers.”

Mr. Giddings, and many of the volunteers, are within the age bracket considered more susceptible to COVID-19, and they are concerned about the risks involved with opening to the public.

“Museums are not open as of yet, but we have a decision to make once they are open between the fiscal and health concerns,” he said.

The Sutton Legion Branch 356 is also facing financial struggles, after closing in March.

“The biggest thing that we’ve survived on lately has been donations,” said Mike Burton, the Legion’s Immediate Past President.

During the closure, members have been renovating and cleaning the Sutton branch. And they are supporting local veterans as much as they can while following safety guidelines.

According to Mr. Burton, the Sutton branch only has to pay daily operating expenses, as they own the building. But they don’t have a significant financial reserve. And the majority of their income comes from the Legion’s bar and hall rentals, which have been closed for four months.

While the Legion does raise money through its Poppy Fund, none of that money goes towards the branch; it’s solely used to help veterans.

Though legally, the Sutton branch can open their patio at half capacity, it’s not going to at this time, according to Mr. Burton, as it does not make financial sense.

“In all honesty, the province has put a lot of pressure on us with the amount of personnel that we would have to have working to be open, and that’s where our costs come in. We’ve done a cost analysis on that, we know what our burden rate is, and if we open on a regular basis, just that income will not suffice,” he said.

While Mr. Burton said the Sutton branch is not in danger of closing permanently as of now, it might become a reality if they are forced to remain closed for an extended period of time.

Fortunately, according to the Town, both organizations are eligible for a grant program approved by Georgina Town Council on June 24, to assist local not-for-profits and charities with their monthly lease or operational costs, up to $1,000 a month for three months.

Mr. Burton said he would be looking into the grant, and Mr. Giddings is currently in talks with the Town.

Both Mr. Burton and Mr. Giddings said they and others within their organizations are working on new ways to raise money, but nothing has been announced as of yet.

Besides facing a loss of income, the Georgina Military Museum also must complete mandatory renovations by next year.

“We will run into some financial roadblocks next year, large ones, which I don’t know how we’re going to get by. We need $30,000 to do some major upgrades required by the Town, so the future may be in question,” Mr. Giddings said.

Though the Sutton branch is not currently in danger of closing, Mr. Burton, who is involved with 49 other Legion branches in this district, said some of the 124 branches facing permanent closures in Canada are in this district.

“At a district level, we try to work together with individual branches to help each other out,” Mr. Burton said. “I’ve seen a lot of different branches that will most likely not be open at the end of this, which will be permanent. It’s heartbreaking.”

But, while the Royal Canadian Legion is hurting as a whole, Mr. Burton says the Sutton branch is determined to make it through the pandemic.

“Any help that the community can give us, or municipality, we would be very grateful. And hopefully, we will be back up and running very soon and be able to have our doors open for our members, our veterans and the public.”

Contact Sutton Legion Branch 356 at (905) 722-8171 or the Georgina Military Museum at (905) 989-9900, if you would like to donate.

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