Kudos are in order. For the past 16 months—the COVID era—The Royal Canadian Legion has made every effort to prevent interruption to the services it provides to veterans, and it has shown remarkable adaptability.
Back in the pre-pandemic days, Legion branches served as second homes to many in communities across Canada. Places to gather in groups, socialize, reminisce, grumble, throw darts, get support—and do good work for others. Branches generate new members and new revenue. And they are fundamental to the grassroots federalist model by which the Legion operates. Thank goodness it won’t be much longer before they are all reopened and operating at capacity.
But looking back, the lockdown closure of branches dealt quite a body blow to the core of this national institution.
Digital initiatives have been embraced and expanded.
A year ago, the prospects for many branches looked grim. More than 120 predicted they would be unable to reopen for financial reasons or would reopen but fail within three months. Another four branches said they would close permanently.
Dominion Command stepped up and set an example by dipping into its reserve fund to disburse up to $3 million to branches most in need. Then it fired up its advocacy machine to persuade the federal government to step up, too. In November, Veterans Affairs Canada came through with the $20-million Veterans Organizations Emergency Support Fund; $14 million was allocated to Legion branches struggling with operational costs as a direct result of COVID-19. That money was disbursed in three phases: $7.2 million to 701 branches in December, $2.8 million to 282 branches in March and the remainder to 885 branches in May.
Digital initiatives have been embraced and expanded—necessarily: tap-enabled poppy donation boxes, online membership sign-ups and renewals, electronic funds transfers, investments in social media marketing. Even digital membership cards are in the works.
The members of Dominion Executive Council have mastered the art of the Zoom meeting. This is all good preparation for the 2021 dominion convention in August, which will be a video conference this time.
Sure, you could say some of these initiatives were already in the works, but the pandemic provided the catalyst to implement them fully ASAP.
Finding novel ways to stay in touch with, and even deliver meals to, isolated elder veterans, to remotely keep up the services it provides to those who need VAC benefits, and to continue to commemorate the fallen without large gatherings—time and again, Legion leadership, from branches to provincial commands to Dominion Command, asked not what can’t we do, but what can we do. Kudos are due.