The South Cariboo’s Royal Canadian Legions are getting ready to get back in action.
After a tough year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the legions to shut down or scale back their operations, the branches – in 100 Mile House, Forest Grove and Clinton – say they can’t wait to start holding fundraisers and other events again. The three legions typically hold everything from meat draws to 50/50 events to bingo, while providing inexpensive meals for seniors.
The Forest Grove Legion, for instance, offers senior lunches on Wednesdays, while Clinton Legion serves up Friday night dinners and free soup once a week to single seniors in its community.
“We do whatever we can for our community, especially our veterans and seniors,” said Wendy Clarke, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 261 in Forest Grove.
Originally founded in 1925 to support veterans, the Royal Canadian Legion branches have long been seen as a cornerstone of the community – although it was difficult to keep afloat during the pandemic due to tight restrictions on the number of people allowed inside. Non-members, for instance, were only able to come with a member.
This meant the 100 Mile House Branch 260 couldn’t hold its popular meat draw, which usually brings in a crowd and a lot of funds because they could only have 28 people at a time. The Legion only gets 15 percent of all proceeds from the draw – the rest goes to the community.
The BC government is poised to hand out $1.5 million to assist branches across the province and “ensure the sustainability of our mission.” It’s not known yet how much money each branch will receive, and the three local Legions urge community members to come out for a meal and – if they’re up for it, to sign up to volunteer.
Marian Nelson, treasurer of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 194 in Clinton, noted that while the number of veterans is dwindling, so is the volunteer pool, which could be detrimental to the legions down the road.
“Unless we get some younger members involved we could be in dire straits,” she said. “I’m one of the younger members and I’m 65, so what does that tell you?”
Nelson joined the legion 30 years ago because her brother, Tom Haing, was in the army, and has stayed on. Over the years the Clinton Legion has supported many different youth activities like soccer and baseball teams, she said, although most of their services and activities are geared towards seniors. The branch currently has 119 members, 20 of whom are veterans of the military and the RCMP.
“Our biggest clientele are seniors. They like the night out and the visitation with their friends,” Nelson said. “Probably our average would be 60-plus but kids and families are welcome.”
Clarke noted that by chance they were closed for renovations during the pandemic and although they have lost money, they have been able to stay afloat.
She is excited to welcome people back to the Legion, which has used various other grants to update the bar and glass-washer and add a new furnace and air conditioner. Volunteers have also added LED lighting and are also renovating the washroom for people with disabilities. The Legion, which supports 146 members throughout Forest Grove and Canim Lake, 40 of whom are veterans, offers not just meals but a wide range of events for the community, from family picnics to bingo.
“We have such a wonderful community here and the Legion is a great way to meet people and become a part of that community,” Clarke said.
100 Mile House’s Legion Branch 260 elected a brand new executive this summer and president Heather Prodnuk said they too had been able to weather the pandemic. Prodnuk is looking forward to making some changes to her Legion while still maintaining its mission to support its veterans and Legion members. The Legion is in the midst of updating its kitchen.
“We see great days ahead for Branch 260,” Prodnuk said. “We have a new executive, it’s a new journey for our Legion and a bright future for all our vets and members.”