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Sundridge council comes to Legion branch's aid

·3 min read

Rick Stahlbaum, president of Legion Branch 467 in Sundridge, says he's very thankful for a $2,000 donation from town council.

The donation is in recognition of the work the local branch does in the community as it, just like many other legion branches, struggle in a COVID-19 world.

Stahlbaum says the money will be applied to the branch's operational expenses, covering about one month's worth of bills.

Although the local branch “wasn't flush with money” prior to COVID-19, it always had enough to pay the bills, he says.

“In fact, we got to the point we had additional funds where we could donate back to the community.”

But then COVID-19 struck and Stahlbaum says the little extra cash the branch had accumulated “got gobbled up.”

Branch 467, like all legion branches, was forced to close in mid-March, as government and health officials tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Stahlbaum says the branch's main source of revenue are hall rentals, as well as holding events such as seniors' dinners and fish fry offerings thanks to the help of the ladies auxiliary.

Bar sales, especially when the branch hosted special events such as weddings and a Johnny Cash tribute band, added to revenue flow.

“All this dried up,” he says.

And the potential for revenue generation hasn't improved.

Although the province has loosened some COVID regulations, the best the branch can do is open its bar.

It's still not able to host events nor can it serve food because it doesn't have table service.

“We have more of a cafeteria-style service where people come to the counter for service,” Stahlbaum explains. “We just don't have the personnel to provide table service.”

When restrictions began to ease up, Stahlbaum says the executive knew it would be limited in what it could provide.

Everyone knew it was going to cost a little bit of money to open up only with bar service, he says, “but it was worth it just for the sanity of our membership.”

For some members, dropping by the legion is about the only thing they do when it comes to socializing, Stahlbaum says.

“They basically stay at home.”

In normal circumstances, this time of year would be busy for the branch as people and groups hold Christmas parties. But that's not happening this year, and it means more revenue Branch 467 won't be able to generate.

Stahlbaum doesn't want to discuss specifics, but says the branch has easily lost thousands of dollars in revenue since the arrival of the pandemic.

Fortunately, he says, there have been some “gracious private donations,” in addition to the recent donation of $2,000 from town council.

Stahlbaum says Branch 467 is always trying to find new ways to bring in revenue, but it has yet to come up with a sure-fire way.

“We are not looking at closing,” he says. “We're holding our own, and as long as we have a little bit of income coming in, we'll be OK.”

Stahlbaum also points out that although legion branches have money in their respective poppy funds, that money is strictly for veterans and cannot be used to pay bills.

He's optimistic that once COVID regulations start easing up in 2021, Branch 467 can once again generate regular revenue so it can resume its contributions to the community.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget