Maple Ridge’s branch of the Royal Canadian Legion is struggling to get by as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to cancel its fundraising events and open their lounge to only half capacity.
However, Maple Ridge’s legion president Al Casswell remains confident they can weather the pandemic.
Branch 88, at the corner of 224th Street and Brown Avenue, closed their doors on March 17 and only opened them up again about a month ago, on May 27.
Casswell feels they owe it to their loyal membership to be open.
“I can just say on behalf of our branch is we’re open, we’re following all the B.C. health protocols, but we are really, really struggling,” said Casswell.
They used to hold meat draws and other fundraisers, noted Casswell, to raise money for the community.
“Now that meat draws are considered an event and we are only allowed 50 people, that includes your staff and your volunteers that brings you down to 40 customers buying tickets, that would barely cover the price of the meat, let alone having anything left over for charity,” he said.
Not only is the lounge operating at half capacity, but members are now required to wash their hands as soon as they enter the facility, temperatures are taken and members are asked a series of health-related questions.
They also have to socially distance themselves from one another at each table, in service lineups and in the restrooms.
Table seating is limited to a maximum of six members.
And, added Casswell, there are no in-and-out privileges.
“So if five of them get up and leave, that doesn’t mean that five more can come through the door,” he explained.
Nationally, 124 Legion branches out of 1,381, or close to one in 10, are facing closure in the coming months, unless there is some sort of intervention, said Nujma Bond, with the Royal Canadian Legion National Headquarters.
Another 357 are in financial difficulty, she said.
In addition, there are also 625 Legion branches across the country, according to media reports, with the exception of British Columbia, involved in a $20-million class-action lawsuit against AVIVA Insurance Company of Canada because, they allege, they are being denied insurance claims for loss of income because of the wording in the policy.
“Branches do not qualify for the government’s Emergency Community Support Fund unless it’s for a COVID-19 related project,” added Bond, noting the funding cannot help them with overall operational costs such as paying utility bills, and that’s where the need is currently greatest.
Some Branches have qualified for funding in the form of a loan via the Canada Emergency Business Account, said Bond, that will help in the short term.
“However most of it will have to be paid back which could be a challenge longer term if Branch operations don’t get back to normal,” she said.
And, Bond said it is also important to understand that funds raised throughout the country during the National Poppy Campaign in November cannot be used for Branch operations.
“Those funds must go towards supporting Veterans and communities,” said Bond.
Casswell is waiting to hear what Remembrance Day is going to look like this year.
“We are waiting for word from Dominion Command as to how we are going to poppy tag and are we going to be able to have a parade,” said Casswell.
Discussions are currently underway to determine whether there will be changes to the National Poppy Campaign and ceremonies this year, said Bond
“Personally for the Legion lounge, on Remembrance Day, it’s a gathering place for people once a year that haven’t seen their friends or their comrades,” said Casswell.
“We would not be able to do it this year if the pandemic is still in place.”