Poppies bloom for Royal Canadian Legion campaign

Donations support charities and services that help veterans and the community

Lew Forth, poppy campaign co-chairman and bar manager at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 256, left, and Joann Walton-Hatch, the branch’s service officer, poppy campaign chairwoman and Remembrance Day parade coordinator, will be among Nanaimo’s veterans presenting thousands of poppies for donations throughout the Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Campaign which runs Friday, Oct. 25, to Nov. 11. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Poppies are in ‘blossom’ this week as they come off the production line at the Ottawa-based company that creates them for the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual campaign.

About 18,000 of the little red plastic flowers are produced per hour at Trico Evolution to ensure there are enough to go around for the poppy campaign that starts on the last Friday of October and remains the legion’s most important annual fundraiser supporting military veterans and their families.

This year’s campaign starts today, Oct. 25, and runs until Nov. 11.

Beneficiaries of the poppy campaign include former RCMP members, “and now we’re expanding that, possibly going to include first responders, sometime in the next year,” said Lew Forth, Poppy co-chairman and bar manager at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 256.

Donations help purchase medical equipment and appliances for community health facilities, pay for medical research and training, to build affordable housing for veterans and senior citizens, fund bursaries for students in need and help provide support services for seniors, such as Meals on Wheels.

“The legion itself also makes money from other events and from our bar profits and stuff, which is non-profit, so everything we make is returned to the community in one form or another – supporting the cadets, the hospitals and the list goes on,” Forth said.

The Royal Canadian Legion evolved from about 15 veterans’ assistance organizations that formed in 1917 during the First World War when wounded Canadian soldiers were returning from Europe.

“The largest of them was called the Great War Veterans’ Association,” Forth said.

The various organizations unified to form the Dominion Veterans Alliance and in 1925 the Legion was founded as the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League, which it remained until 1960 when Queen Elizabeth II granted royal patronage and the organization became known as the Royal Canadian Legion.

RELATED: Digital poppies set to launch as part of Remembrance Day campaign

More than 20 charities and services, such as Nanaimo Hospital Foundation, Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank, Nanaimo Lifeline, St. John Ambulance, and Nanaimo 7-10 Club are supported by Nanaimo’s legion branches.

“It has to be local,” said Joann Walton-Hatch, the branch’s service officer, poppy campaign chairwoman and Remembrance Day parade coordinator. “There’s a few deviations, but it has to be local or within the province and a lot of people don’t realize all the [poppy donations] are kept for the poppy fund. It does not help with any of the maintenance or help with the branch. It’s strictly for what it’s set out to do and a lot of people have misconceptions about that.”

The campaign officially ends Nov. 11, but that is a day of remembrance when fundraising and other programs are set aside.

“Mind you, if somebody makes a big contribution on Remembrance Day we’re not going to turn it down,” Walton-Hatch said.

To learn more about the Royal Canadian Legion, the annual Poppy Campaign and Nanaimo’s Legion branches, visit www.legion.ca/.

RELATED: Nanaimo Legion hall to be covered in murals

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