Eganville – COVID-19 has been devastating for the local Legion, Branch 353, with cancellations and no possibility of opening anytime soon, and coupled with a decline in membership and support seen in recent years, the situation has become so dire, the local Rotary Club has stepped in to help.
“This is a project for the Rotary Club to save the Legion,” said Rotary Club member Dave Clark. “This is a very integral part of the community.”
He said when his wife, Carol, noticed an advertisement in the Leader recently about the Eganville Legion hosting Friday afternoon barbecues to raise some desperately needed funds, she suggested it was something the Rotary Club might be able to do something about. The club stepped in with a one-time donation of $2,500.
Shortly after that, Legion treasurer Claude Jeannotte told Leader Publisher Gerald Tracey in an interview the dire situation the Branch was in financially. The story never ran in the paper because, as Mr. Tracey explained, he had another idea to help.
“I knew the Legion couldn’t issue tax receipts for donations and so I offered to talk to Mr. Clark about the possibility of the Rotary Club spear-heading a campaign which would allow them to issue tax receipts.”
Mr. Tracey contacted Mr. Clark who was 100 per cent behind the idea and then he took it to the club where it got unanimous support.
The Save Our Legion campaign is being spearheaded by the club and all donations over $25 will receive a charitable receipt.
While people could donate funds to the Legion directly, they would not receive a charitable receipt. Although both are non-profit groups, the Legion can only issue charitable receipts for the Poppy Fund. The organizers are hoping for donations of anywhere from $25 and up to keep this vital organization flourishing and are launching the campaign this week for the duration of the summer.
The need is desperate as the Legion has been very hard hit by the mandated closures due to COVID-19. Mr. Jeannotte said the Branch has fixed costs and it is incredibly challenging with no revenue coming in. The fixed costs are about $2,000 monthly and sometimes they are more, especially with items like snow removal and heating in winter.
To make the situation more bitter, the Legion was anticipating a busy and profitable summer.
“We were booked solid and it all had to be cancelled,” Walter Hobden, past president and Zone Deputy Commander, said. “Everything is postponed.”
The Legion had been very public in the past about the crunch they were facing with an aging membership and few new volunteers. Both Mr. Jeannotte and Mr. Hobden are well past retirement age as are many of their core group of volunteers. As well, they need community support for the events they do hold.
“We were already struggling,” Mr. Hobden said. “Declining membership and people not using the facilities.”
This message has resonated somewhat because this summer the place would have been busy every weekend with wedding receptions, Stag and Does and other activities. Now the men and the other members of the Legion are left wondering how they will pay the bills.
Making it even more bittersweet is the fact the Legion is celebrating its 75th anniversary this August 4. While there would have been a bigger to-do if COVID-19 had not struck, a smaller outdoor celebration will mark this significant milestone on July 31 when one of the fundraising barbecues is held. The men are hoping this will also be an event to inspire people to come out and support the Legion and donate to the Rotary initiative. Members of the Rotary Club will be there to take donations and issue charitable receipts.
For Mr. Clark and fellow Rotarian Wayne Gorman, the decision to help the local Legion was a logical one and one they were glad to take on. With the Rotary Club running the fundraising campaign, people can receive a charitable donation and know they are supporting a very important community organization.
Mr. Clark said when he and his wife Carol saw the Legion had resorted to selling hamburgers and hot dogs on Friday, they realized it would not be enough to meet the fixed costs the Legion has.
“So, the club jumped on it,” he said.
Mr. Gorman said the Legion has been an important place in the lives of so many families over the years and it is time for the community to give back.
“It is not just here the Legion is in trouble. It is everywhere,” he said. “The Legion has been an integral part of this community for 75 years. When I got married 56 years ago, it was the place to go.”
Mr. Tracey pointed out the contributions the Branch has had locally from creating Legion Field to helping build Centennial Park. He recalled many special events held at the Legion through the years, including when Sarah Lavallee of Pikwakanagan was honoured by the Vatican, and when the pilots of the famous Canadian Snow Birds were guests of honour along with Avro Arrow test pilot Jan Zurakowski of Barry’s Bay the night before their air show over Eganville and area in 1990, just to name a few.
The Legion has also been an organization which worked hard to make the community a better place and gave to community initiatives, to support young people and other items.
“The Legion has always given back to the community,” he said. “Our feeling is now is the time for the community to give back to the Legion. We want people to recognize the importance of the Legion.”
Having the partnership between the Rotary Club and the Legion makes perfect sense, he added.
“The Rotary Club had its anniversary celebrations here and has had many events here,” he said. “Both organizations have been integral to community betterment and development.”
The emotional impact of the possibility of the closure of the Legion has also been tremendous, Mr. Tracey said. Seeing members of the Legion with tears in their eyes wondering about the future and paying the bills moved him to act, he said.
“Every family has been here at the Legion for events and mostly happy events,” he said.
“We’ve never been turned down,” added Mr. Clark.
Mr. Hobden pointed out the Legion has also donated the space for many good causes and does give money to the community as they are able.
“We think it is a community service, like the Blood Donor Clinic,” he said. “We are giving this to the community.”
Working behind the scenes, many people don’t realize what the Legion does and the importance of the presence of the Branch. However, it is the heartbeat of the community in many ways, from the voting booths on election days to suppers, Remembrance Day activities and large gatherings.
“Remember when we had the Still Standing filming here,” said Mr. Hobden with a grin.
Minor sports clubs receive donations from the Legion and who could forget the many speech contests, poster contests and the scholarships the Legion gives to students.
The need for the Legion is great and the group has set a goal of $50,000 for this campaign. All of the money raised will go to Legion operations.
“No one knows how long COVID restrictions will continue to affect places like the Legion,” Mr. Tracey said. “If the campaign reaches its goal and the Branch is able to resume normal activities, surplus funds will go into a sustainability fund.”
Mr. Gorman added the Rotary Club will be administering the money to go to the Legion and it is going solely to this cause for this fundraiser.
With the fundraiser beginning this week, it is hopped it will be wrapped up by Labour Day. The group is confident they will be able to meet the goal once the community realizes how great the need is.
“We are hoping for a quick response,” said Mr. Tracey. “It’s time for us to help an organization that has been so generous to the wider community for 75 years.”
It is important to note cheques for the fundraiser need to be made out to the Rotary Club specifying Branch 353 Fund to receive a charitable receipt.
All donations over $25 are eligible for a tax receipt. There are several ways to donate.
1. Donations can be made out to Eganville Rotary Club – Branch 353 Fund and mailed to Box 788, Eganville, ON KOJ 1TO.
2. Cheques or cash donations can be left at the Eganville Leader and receipts will be issued immediately.
3. Donations can be made through www.eganvillerotaryclub.com.
4. Donations can be made at the Eganville Legion Friday BBQs. The next two BBQs are Friday, July 17 and Friday, July 31. Receipts will be issued on the spot.