SURREY — Last Friday (Oct. 30) marked the start of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Campaign for 2015, and Roy Brown took his position outside the Safeway store in Newton for a six-hour shift.
Brown, who turned 86 this week, sat on his walker and chatted with people as they entered and exited the grocery store.
“I’ve been doing this since around 1975,” Brown said proudly.
When one woman asked, Brown told her the trick of sticking the end of the poppy pin into the edge of the poppy itself, to keep it in place on her jacket.
“If I told everybody the trick,” Brown said with a smile, “then we wouldn’t sell any more poppies, right?
“But the fact is,” he quickly added, “we don’t sell them, we give the poppies away and people make a donation if they want to.”
Across Canada, close to 16 million of the poppies are distributed during the two weeks of the Legion’s campaign, leading up to Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.
In B.C. and the Yukon region alone, nearly $3 million in donations is raised, said Inga Kruse, executive director of the region’s Command, or headquarters.
Since 2012, the Command office has been located on 58th Avenue in Cloverdale.
Money raised during the poppy campaign helps fund things like housing for veterans, trauma counselling, a military skills conversion program at BCIT, service dogs, medical equipment and much more.
“The big message to get out there is that when people donate to our poppy campaign, it doesn’t support the legion buildings, the branches,” Kruse told the Now.
“Our poppy money is sacred.”
To generate additional donations during the campaign, the B.C./Yukon Command has launched some innovative programs.
“Three years ago, we were the first Command in Canada to have a text-to-donate option on cellphones, so you text the word ‘poppy’ to 20222 on your phone and it gives $5 to the campaign, and it automatically comes off your cellphone bill,” Kruse explained.
“Rather than have people digging in their pocket for change that they don’t always have in there, our taggers suggest they make a donation on their cellphone, that’s it,” she added. “We’re spearheading that kind of donating.”
New this year is a “Poppyfy” app that allows a user to add a poppy to their profile photo on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as a way to show support for the campaign.
Brown is fond of the old-school way of collecting coins and bills.
“I started with 250 poppies today, and probably 70 of them left here,” he said. “I was here a full day today – 10 until 4. I’m just about finished here today, and I will be here every morning next week, Monday to Thursday, and I’m taking Friday off and then back here on the 9th and 10th. This is my store, close to home.”
At the Cloverdale Legion branch, an organizer of the poppy campaign told Brown he didn’t have to volunteer his time each and every day.
“But I told Pat (the organizer) that I enjoy it, talking to the people. Where I’m (living) at, there are no new people, but here, there’s lots of new people to talk to.”
During the campaign, additional people are always needed to give out poppies and collect donations, Kruse emphasized.
“We have an infrastructure of where people go to a Legion (branch) and sign up to do a shift, or phone in,” she said. “It’s not centralized, and we rely on our members and the cadet corp to do all that. But the general public in B.C. doesn’t realize that you don’t have to be a member of the legion to help out. If you have two hours of spare time, go to a local branch and sign up for a shift. Most branches have a big board where people can pick a shift and put their name down. We’re working on a system where we’ll have an online scheduler in every branch.”