Weeks after Legion Branches first mobilized to provide help to those who need it most during the COVID-19 crisis, devoted volunteer work continues across the country. Navigating challenges such as building closures and worries about long-term survival, Branches remain focused on helping others.
Skilled volunteers across the country are crafting functional and attractive non-surgical masks to help keep people safe.
In Hudson, QC, Legion Branch member Don Staniforth had recently returned from a trip abroad, wondering what he could do to help. He and Legion volunteers joined forces with a Beaconsfield quilters group to supply 1,750 masks to the local Ste-Anne Hospital which houses many Veterans – enough for each patient and staff member to receive more than one. Using an approved pattern, they got down to business. Veterans are thankful.
“They tell me they are not allowed out without masks so they are grateful to have something to wear to walk around the facility,” Staniforth says. Staff are also happy to receive the gifts. “They’re excited when we drop off equipment, it’s filling a void, showing people care, it’s a good feeling.”
One resident called Staniforth and offered to make protective shields as well – and he did, at no cost. “We have to fight this invisible war…we’re all going to get through it,” he says firmly.
Supporting Veterans, seniors and communities
The efforts to support local communities have taken on new dimensions. Blood donation remains an important need during this pandemic and some Branches are doing what they can to help facilitate it.
In Aurora, ON, because it has become harder to find places to hold clinics, the Branch offered to provide a location – while following all the rules.
“The Branch felt that this was a good way to give back to the community in a way that would have an impact,” says Crystal Cook, District Commander of the Aurora region in Ontario. “There will always be emergency situations that require blood.”
In Calgary, AB, determined volunteers at a Branch in the Kensington neighbourhood have added local schoolchildren to the list of people they’re helping. Kids from three particular regions who would normally be fed at school aren’t getting their usual lunches so the Branch is making them instead; preparing between 64-100 bags per day depending upon need.
“We’re doing what we can to ensure people are actually eating,” says Kensington Branch President and Dominion Treasurer Mark Barham. “It’s why the Legion is here, it’s what we do,” he says firmly.
The chef at the Branch bakes 100 fresh buns daily, and they become turkey and beef “bunwiches” which go into the lunch bags along with fruit, yogourt and a cookie.
Barham describes one lady who showed up at the Branch with her son and tears in her eyes, feeling awkward asking for help. “People arrive, and we only ask one question, how many (lunches) do you want?” he says. The Branch has two other pandemic projects on the go.
A nearby seniors’ residence also houses Veterans, and Legion volunteers are providing them with dinners as requested. It means up to 40 servings a few times a week, of stew, chili, sandwiches or some other tasty concoction.
An email from the executive at the same Legion Branch went out to staff and members, asking them if they needed any food supplies. “They’re over the moon, just the fact it’s being done,” says Barham.
By early April, a Branch in Fonthill, ON south of Hamilton, was already making and delivering a few hundred meals. It has now delivered close to 3,000. The volunteers making and delivering the varied menu has grown from five to fifteen.
“We never expected it to get this big,” says Toni McKelvie, Branch President. As long as they can fill the need, they’ll keep it going.
They’ve also started a drive-through on Friday nights, serving fried fish and chicken dinners – 500 of them one recent night. They’re selling out. Another unexpected outcome is the outpouring of community support for what they’re doing. “People are going through the drive-through, they say here’s an envelope, and you open it and there’s 200, 300 dollars in it, it’s amazing,” she exclaims.
McKelvie enthusiastically shares the story of a former Fonthill restauranteur, Vilma Moretti, who wrote a cookbook to share her delicious pie recipes. Proceeds are going to the Legion and the local food bank. McKelvie says that already means another $5,000 to help the Branch with its support efforts.
While assisting mainly Veterans and seniors, she has been hearing from more Veterans’ families about parents needing help. “Veterans will not ask for help – like my Dad - so we deliver it to them and they are grateful,” she says.
Checking in, showing support
Branch President Floyd Vincent and other volunteers in Dalhousie, NB have offered to assist seniors dealing with medical conditions or other issues, and are checking in with Veterans regularly.
“In the evenings, I call the older guys – I myself am 81 but don’t feel it,” he chuckles. “We talk for a while, and make sure things are ok…they really appreciate it,” says Vincent.
There are other thoughtful actions by Legion volunteers intent upon spreading a little goodwill.
Like the show of support for frontline workers in the small town of Brighton, ON. “We are joining the wave to place paper hearts in the windows of the Branch,” says Glenn Irving, its First Vice President.
Anyone wanting to share a heart has been invited to drop their creation into the “heart box” at the Branch. “Shows we’re concerned and cheering on our first responders,” he explains.
Throughout this challenging period, the Legion’s Veterans Services department is open for calls and emails. As trusted lifelines across the country, Service Officers are helping Veterans with financial needs, answering their questions, completing regular phone check-ins, and filling out benefits and disability applications.
“It is many phone calls to calm people down and give them advice and alternatives,” says Marg Rohmann, an Ontario Command Service Officer located in Aurora. “They contact the Legion, as the Legion answers which is a good thing.”
Service Officers can be reached at 1-877-534-4666 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About The Royal Canadian Legion
Founded in 1925, the Legion is Canada’s largest Veteran support and community service organization. We are a non-profit organization with a national reach across Canada as well as branches in the U.S., Europe and Mexico. With close to 260,000 members, many of whom volunteer an extraordinary amount of time to their branches, our strength is in our numbers.
Public Relations / Media Inquiries: PublicRelations@Legion.ca