By: Mike Anderson
It was thumbs up at the Sutton Legion when Branch 356 President Stephen Wiebe deposited a federal e-transfer for nearly $11,000 on March 3.
The funds were issued through the Veterans Organizations Emergency Support Fund (VOESF), a federal COVID-19 support program to help Legions continue to operate during the pandemic.
In total, $14 million in federal support has been administered to 983 branches across Canada by the Royal Canadian Legion (RCL).
And it’s come just in the nick of time, as the pandemic lockdowns have severely impacted many of the RCL’s branches, especially their ability to raise revenues.
With the Sutton Legion closed this past year, there hasn’t been a lot of money coming in. And, as Mr. Wiebe points out, the bills still need to get paid.
“The funds are going to help us pay some bills, but it also allows us to give funds to those who need help,” he said.
“With the pandemic, we are assisting more seniors and veterans; this funding just helps us get out there and get that done.”
“We just helped a veteran’s wife, he was a WW2 vet, and he’s passed. She needed dental work done on her jaw, and that was quite a bit of money, and we were able to reach out and help her with that.”
According to Mr. Wiebe, the Legion’s role has changed over the years from a place for veterans to socialize to more of a community support.
“We’re not the only group that supports seniors and veterans. But, because we are so out there in this community, people recognize that. If people reach out to us and we can help, we will.”
While Mr. Wiebe is grateful for all the moral and financial support the Legion has received from the community during the pandemic, he wanted to give a special shout-out to York-Simcoe MP Scot Davidson.
“Scot has always been a supporter of what we try and do here. He called me and said, ‘Steve, you need to apply for this. This is coming up.’ So I don’t know what else to say other than thanks. He brought it to our attention. And we were able to apply and be successful.”
“The Legion does so much in the community. It’s almost a community hub. And, now that they’re shuttered, they don’t have places for people to have meals. They don’t have weddings. They don’t have any source of income whatsoever,” said MP Scot Davidson.
“And I think at last count, there’s been over 38 legions that have shuttered now forever. This federal program will contribute to insurance costs, snowplowing, and all the fixed costs that legions have. This is the least that we can do to help them bridge that gap until they can be opened again.”
While the new federal funding provides a lifeline of sorts, according to the RCL, it’s only a stop-gap for now.
“While it was a relief to receive these generous funds, they will not be sufficient to cover branch costs for an extended period, so we are hopeful things will return to normal soon,” said Nujma Bond, Manager of Communications for The Royal Canadian Legion, in an email to The Post.
“In the meantime, branches are operating to the best of their ability where possible, amidst local restrictions. They’re finding creative ways to continue their critical support of our Veterans, their families and communities.”
Finding creative ways to survive the pandemic has become a mantra for the Sutton Legion.
The Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation (CGIFN) are starting up a sweatshirt program this month, so folks will be able to purchase a sweatshirt to support the Legion.
And, the Legion’s successful bottle drive, started last summer, has been extended until Easter.
“The original one was last August, and that went really well. And then, about October, people started contacting us and asking us if we were still taking empties. And we said, sure. And in the last couple months, well, since Christmas, it has really picked up,” said Peter Leach, the Legion’s First Vice President, who estimates that $1,700 has been raised since the fall.
“Every time I come up here, once a day before work or after work and on the weekends after ice fishing, there was always something there, or people will contact me and message me on Facebook or text me. It’s really working. It’s one way to make money, and people don’t mind donating it. Because they don’t have to take the empties back.”
Mr. Leach said that if anyone wants to donate their empties, they can leave them under the front canopy at the front of the Legion.
“I have people who drive by and say, ‘Peter, there’s bottles.’ Or they’ll text me or message me. There’s always somebody coming here once a day.”
Mr. Leach also said that the Legion had received numerous personal donations.
“We’ve had quite a few donations come in — $20, $15, $10 from different people. We’ve had people who usually donate to the fishing derby give to the Legion, ‘There’s my $30. I’d usually pay for the ticket anyway,'” he said.
“We’ll be all right. We’ve got a good community, and people have really helped out. When we did the bottle drive in the summertime, when I needed help to take the empties to the beer store, I had, I don’t know, eight pickup trucks and trailers. And only one of those people were members of the Legion.”