Branches of the Royal Canadian Legion face immediate financial crunches not being addressed by government support programs currently available, says the president of the Elmira organization.
Branch 469 is eligible for funding from the province’s Resilient Communities Fund, but that money is earmarked for the likes of new programs perhaps aimed a medium-term recovery, not the most pressing cash shortfalls today, says Gary Schaefer.
“The Resilient Communities Fund appears to provide money to ‘re-imagine the delivery of programs and services to meet the needs of the community’ or perhaps develop new and/or alternative sources of revenues,” he explained. “It does not provide funding for operating costs that cannot be covered due to our required pandemic response. For many branches, ours included, to survive the financial crisis the pandemic has triggered, they need help to pay the rent; they do not need funding for new projects.”
The coronavirus lockdown led to a loss of the revenue needed to keep the organization going, said Schaefer.
“The Royal Canadian Legion is an organization whose primary goal is to provide assistance of various types to our veterans and our community at large. This requires money, much of the which is generated through our many branch events and rentals. We were completely closed for nearly five months and have now only partially reopened; it seems unlikely that we will be able to resume catering and rentals in the near future.”
The organization has faced hardships since its facility was closed down on March 16, preventing it from running its programs, operating fundraising events and offering rentals to other groups.
“During that time, we were unable to serve our members. Our upstairs hall is usually busy with events such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and other celebrations. All were cancelled or postponed. Three community breakfasts with the possibility of serving a total of 1,500 to 2,000 guests were also cancelled. Unfortunately, community cosponsors of these events also missed out on the shared funding. Our ever-popular Friday night suppers and meat draws, along with our famous schnitzel dinner have been cancelled. Timing for resuming these activities is also unknown,” said Schaefer.
While any government support is appreciated, the funding available is not the type needed to cope with being closed for more than six months, he added.
Closure has meant limited access to the 276 active members of Branch 469, an unprecedented occurrence in its seven decades in the community.
The organization’s history in Elmira dates back to its creation in 1949 when its charter was drafted under inaugural president Howard Brant, with only those with military service allowed to join. The first location was in a house on Mill Street. That building was destroyed by fire in 1965 and is now a parking lot.
Less than two years later, a building was erected at the current location on the First Street, with the first meeting held on Nov. 29, 1967. That building was renovated 20 years later, with new washroom facilities and a ramp added.
Throughout its time in Elmira, the Legion has been active in the community. In recent years, the organization partnered with Woolwich Township to refurbish the cenotaph first built in 1923, including replacing the original marble statue of a soldier with a bronze replica.
“The original statue was moved to the Woolwich Memorial Centre. Paving stones and benches were added to allow veterans, seniors, and handicapped to enjoy the surroundings. We are currently contemplating adding memorial stones to acknowledge peacekeepers, and Afghan vets,” said Schaefer.
As with many Legion projects, however, those plans are on hold just now, he added.
While the organization has been able to resume some activities under the province’s reopening guidelines, the future remains uncertain. Branch 469 encourages residents to support the organization as it looks to get back on track.
“If you are able, please consider coming into our club room on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Revenue generated there can help us, in a small way, to continue to help the veterans in our community.”