The Royal Canadian Legion in Toronto is concerned that it may raise significantly less money for veterans through donations to its poppy campaign this year than it did last year.
Due to the pandemic, veterans, legion members and military cadets have not fanned out across the city in person to collect donations in exchange for poppies. Previously, people wearing white boxes filled with red poppies would collect donations at subway stations, GO stations and shopping malls in Toronto.
The legion, however, is hoping that people will donate through the use of what it calls “touchless” donation boxes and traditional donation boxes placed on store counters. The legion launched its National Poppy Campaign on Friday.
Wayne Powell, deputy district commander and poppy chairman for the legion’s District D, which encompasses Toronto, said all of the money collected through the poppy campaign goes into a trust fund for local veterans and their families. A drop in revenue will affect how much the legion can help, he said.
“It’s really handcuffed us in terms of running a poppy campaign as a normal poppy campaign,” Powell said on Sunday.
“The challenge is we’re not getting the revenue. We’ll know somewhere after November the 11th. But the revenue could, moving forward, hurt veterans that are coming to us for assistance.”
In previous years, about 1,200 to 1,500 traditional donation boxes would have been distributed to stores by now. But the legion is having trouble as well getting volunteers to distribute the boxes due to COVID-19 restrictions in Toronto, he added.
“We’re having a little difficulty having a few people in here to get out and deliver the boxes to some of the stores. And of course, some of the stores don’t want to take them because of the pandemic going on.”
Powell said anyone who does collect donations in person has to stand at least two metres away from the box, but collecting that way is unlikely to happen this year.
He said the legion, if it runs out of money after helping vets through its poppy campaign, may have to reach out to other branches that have more money in their poppy trust funds to cover certain requests.
“Wear a poppy. Make a donation, as generous a donation as you can afford,” Powell said.
There will be no in person Remembrance Day ceremony in Toronto on Nov. 11. The city, on its website, says: “Unfortunately, due to the COVID 19 pandemic, there will be no public gatherings on Remembrance Day in 2020. This year commemorations will be virtual and available through the city’s website and social media.”
Larry Tomei, executive vice-president and head of retail banking and wealth management for HSBC Canada, said HSBC has joined forces with the legion to create the touchless donation boxes.
“We were inspired by the legion. It’s a great partnership with the legion. We’ve been working on it for a year,” Tomei said on Sunday.
“This is all about taking technology of today and applying it to our heroes, our veterans who served in the past, are serving in the present and will serve in the future, and really helping the legion be able to address the fact that people are carrying less money right now. People are carrying credit cards, they have their watches, they have their phones. Also, during COVID, people are reluctant to touch.”
Tomei said the touchless donation boxes solve all of those problems.
There will be 250 “Pay Tribute” boxes in locations across the country, half of which will be HSBC bank branches across Canada. The other half will be at select retail locations, including Shoppers Drug Mart, Canadian Tire and LCBO.
The boxes will accept touchless donations in two-dollar increments from any tap-enabled device or card.
Tomei said a box beeps, and within a few seconds after payment, a button on the box turns green and donors then can take a poppy from the box, as they would from a traditional box.
“It is that simple,” he said. “It should be important to every Canadian. These are folks that made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Henry Walls, a British army veteran who belongs to the legion’s District D, said Toronto residents should consider giving a donation. He said he is concerned about a drop in revenue as well. Walls came to Canada in 1978 and joined the Royal Canadian Legion in 1980.
“I’m a little bit upset,” he said. “Any donations are welcome. We don’t get anything from it. It goes straight to the veterans in hospitals.”
Walls said he understands that touchless donation boxes have to be used this year. “You can’t ask people to put themselves in harm’s way. It’s a safe way, but I hope next year it goes back to normal.”
And he added: “Young people, if they’re looking for a job, the military’s great.”