As it tries to recover financially from months of being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what the Hawkesbury branch of the Royal Canadian Legion could use most right now is a few good men and women.

Declining membership and revenue has affected Legion branches across Canada for the past several decades, with many struggling to maintain operating revenues. This year’s forced closure has used up what remaining cash reserves were available for Branch 472 in Hawkesbury.

“We weren’t in a great financial position to start with and when COVID-19 hit we had to close our doors, but of course we still had to pay the monthly charges for heating, electricity, insurance and everything else,” said Jack Hume, Public Relations Officer with Hawkesbury Legion Branch 472, who also noted the local branch of the legion is in better shape than most. “We’re very fortunate that we own our own building and have no mortgage on it, so that helped us quite a bit.

“In our district there are about 60 Legions which are right now just staying above the line – they could go one way or the other as to staying open or closing. It’s really hitting them hard.”

With its bank account at zero, the Hawkesbury Legion did receive some help from the Ontario provincial government recently, when the province opted to allow Legion branches to utilize charitable funds raised from bingos to pay their bills.

“This is money that our volunteers get when they work at bingos, but we can’t spend that money as we like – we have to give it to other charities,” Hume pointed out. “But the Ford government passed a motion that we could use that money to pay our own bills. We had about $10,000 in that account and that more or less saved us.”

Shortly after Hume spoke with the Review, an announcement was made that the Ontario government is investing $83 million through the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) to provide grants to help eligible non-profit organizations, including food banks, child and youth programs and Royal Canadian Legion branches, recover from COVID-19 and continue the delivery of vital programming in their communities. The announcement was well-received by members of the Hawkesbury branch.

“This could be a life-saver to many Ontario Legions that are struggling to keep their doors open,”Hume said.

While members of the Hawkesbury Legion are excited the facility can now reopen, requirements for social distancing and limitations on the number of people allowed in the facility at one time will severely limit revenue the group needs to maintain both the building and funding to other charitable organizations. The Legion Hall is the group’s principal source of income and most of the revenue comes from rental of the hall, not from its use by the membership.

“Our main income was from renting of our hall for weddings, funerals, business meetings, and not being to rent the hall out for those has really hurt us,” Hume observed. “We had music on Friday nights and Sundays which usually drew a pretty good crowd, along with our smoked-meat suppers every month, but we’ve lost all that.”

Beginning September 9, the Legion will be open on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons from 2-6 pm, under the guidelines set out by the Province of Ontario Phase 3 rules and regulations. Volunteers from Branch 472 will serve as bartenders in order to ensure the operation can at least break even.

One bright spot for the Hawkesbury Legion has been donations they have received over the past few months from members of the general public. Anyone wishing to make a donation to the legion can send a cheque to the Hawkesbury Royal Canadian Legion, 152 Nelson St. East, Hawkesbury, Ontario, K6A 1L8. You can also follow the local branch on its Facebook page.

The best way to help out the Royal Canadian Legion is to sign up as a member. Branch 472 currently has about 200 members throughout Hawkesbury, Vankleek Hill, L’Orignal, Alfred, and the surrounding regions. Members from all walks of life can join and it is a great way to both support veterans and take part in community building.

We’re really looking to get new members – especially younger people who would be active,” said Hume. “You don’t have to be a member of the armed forces or police – anyone over the age of 18 can join.

“We’re a great organization, we help the community with all kinds of events, we take care of veterans in the hospitals – it would be wonderful to get some new members involved.”

The two halls in the Hawkesbury Royal Canadian Legion’s building on Nelson Street are normally packed for weddings and other special events, however COVID-19 has left them mostly empty in 2020.