Poppy campaign kicked off Friday

The local Legion branch kicked off its 2020 Poppy Campaign Friday by presenting the first poppy to Don Graves, left. Poppy Campaign chair Colin Riese said this year’s campaign will look a little different due to COVID-19. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion kicked off a poppy campaign like no other Friday morning.

Each year, the organization sells its signature red poppies at businesses across the community. All the funds raised from the campaign go to support programs benefitting veterans and their communities.

This year looks a little different.

Like so many other events, COVID-19 has forced the Legion to change their plans. They can’t have the tables they usually set out at grocery stores and other major shopping locations to sell poppies. Instead, they’re encouraging residents to stop by the legion itself to purchase a bracelet, lapel pin, or car poppy for a $5 donation.

They’re also encouraging anyone who comes across a poppy tray to leave a donation and take a poppy to remember those who died or were wounded serving their country.

“It is proving to be a bit of a difficult challenge this year,” said poppy campaign coordinator Colin Riese.

“There are not going to be any ceremonies in the armoury this year. but as far as the poppy campaign drive goes, we’re going to continue.”

The annual Remembrance Day ceremony, jointly hosted by the Legion and the ANAVETS club, was the latest event to be cancelled as COVID-19 case numbers resume their climb.

It’s the latest memorial celebration to be cancelled. Decoration Day was called off earlier this year, as were ceremonies in various communities across Canada designed to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Riese, though, is hopeful the Legion’s poppy campaign is still a success.

“The poppy campaign is designed to support the veterans and their families,” he said.

“Every nickel, dime, and quarter counts and of those funds go to various projects that support veterans.”

Each year, the legion celebrates the campaigns’ kickoff in a ceremony where they pin the first poppy on a prominent member of the community.

Due to social distancing requirements, this year, the honoree pinned their own poppy, but Riese and this year’s first poppy recipient Don Graves, still posed for a photo at the Legion Friday.

“I’m honoured that I’m the one they asked this year,” Graves said. “I’m very pleased.”

Graves served in the military from 1963 until 1976. 

“I served time in the military and am quite proud of that fact,” he said, adding that the poppy campaign is “very important.”

While Graves was the first poppy recipient in Prince Albert, provincially, that honour went to the lieutenant governor, the Honourable Russell Mirasty.

Mirasty received the poppy virtually from the legion’s Saskatchewan Command president Keith Andrews Thursday. 

“I am honoured to receive the first poppy in Saskatchewan,” Mirasty said in a press release. “I encourage everyone to wear a poppy to pay tribute to the men and women who have sacrificed much to serve our country. I am grateful to the Legion for their ongoing support of veterans and service people, which is made possible through donations to the Poppy Fund.”

Mirasty presented the second poppy to Sgt. (retired) Paul Valiquette, a veteran who served in Afghanistan and received assistance from the Poppy Fund.

“It’s a great privilege to receive this poppy from the Legion, presented by His Honour,” said Valiquette. “I will wear it in honour of the men and women I served with in Afghanistan, Golan Heights, and on many other operations. When I was diagnosed with an Operational Stress Injury, the Poppy Fund assisted me with emergency funding for groceries and rent, and even to find a better home through the Leave the Streets Program. I work with the Legion today and use the training I received in Mental Health First Aid to help others.”

The poppy was officially adopted in Canada in 1921 by the Great War Veterans’ Association, one of the predecessors of the Legion. They’re recognized as the national symbol of remembrance for Canadian men and women who gave their lives during military service around the world.