The Royal Canadian Legion kicked off its annual poppy drive in Sooke with legion president Richard Steele (left), Mayor Maja Tait, T’Sou-ke Nation Chief Gordie Planes and poppy fund chair Al Stuart in attendance. (Kevin Laird/News Staff)

The Royal Canadian Legion kicked off its annual poppy drive in Sooke with legion president Richard Steele (left), Mayor Maja Tait, T’Sou-ke Nation Chief Gordie Planes and poppy fund chair Al Stuart in attendance. (Kevin Laird/News Staff)

Sooke Legion credits restaurant, volunteers for keeping doors open through pandemic

‘We’re not making a lot of money, but we’re not losing a lot either,’ says legion president

As Remembrance Day nears, Richard Steele is thankful that he’s able to have a Royal Canadian Legion that’s still open in the first place.

As the Sooke branch president, Steele says one of the legion’s most steady streams of revenue has been its restaurant, Grill 54, which boasts daily specials, including hamburgers on Wednesdays and fish and chips on Fridays.

“We’re not making a lot of money, but we aren’t losing a lot either,” said Steele. “The food service is the biggest draw for the community, and it’s been keeping us afloat. We’ve got some fabulous people in the kitchen.”

Besides the foodservice, Steele said the legion regularly donates to the Sooke Food Bank every two to three months, which helps feed other members in the community too. Amid the pandemic, he misses karaoke on Friday nights.

The legion hasn’t hosted social nights due to the pandemic, and Steele says karaoke night was one of its constant draws that helped balance out the expenses.

Steele says this year’s poppy fundraising efforts will be a little different.

Typically, taggers have the box attached to a rope around their necks, but instead, it will be on a tray, and they will pick up their poppy with tongs and hand them to people when they donate.

He’s got his concerns of volunteers potentially exposing themselves to COVID while out at local liquor and grocery stores but says they still have to sort out their expected shifts and number of volunteers at one time. Overall, he says they are expecting fewer volunteers overall.

Some legions will be piloting electronic donation boxes across the country, allowing people to donate and receive a poppy with tap and pay technology.

In addition to the poppy, the national legion branch is selling non-medical masks online. Close to $20 million is donated during the national poppy campaign each year and goes directly into supporting veterans. For more details, visit poppystore.ca.

The legion is Canada’s largest veteran support and community service organization, operating as a non-profit.

Although Sooke has a sizable senior population, Steele thinks seniors have been “overlooked for a long time.” He’s glad to see that the district is moving forward with the new seniors complex on Lot A along Wadams Way but would love the chance to grow and upgrade the legion’s equipment.

He’s considered installing an elevator to move seniors to the building’s second-floor more efficiently. Now, the centre has a single chairlift to assist them to the banquet area and kitchen, but Steele says that’s not efficient when small groups are coming in and out. Without any definite plans in place, he says the seniors will have to deal with the current situation for now.

“The reason why we haven’t shut down is because of the volunteers,” said Steele. “They have a lot of energy, and that’s what makes us successful.”

– with files from Ashley Wadhwani



editor@sookenewsmirror.com

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