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Sooke legion in financial crisis

Sooke Legion Branch 54 president Jan Watson points towards the building’s ancient heat pump that will cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace. - Octavian  Lacatusu/Sooke News Mirror
Sooke Legion Branch 54 president Jan Watson points towards the building’s ancient heat pump that will cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace.
— image credit: Octavian Lacatusu/Sooke News Mirror

The Sooke Royal Canadian Legion is in a bit of financial trouble and now after decades of helping vets and the local community, it’s now turning to the community itself for help.

“We’re broke,” said Paul McTavish, Sooke Legion branch manager, adding the legion  has nearly zero operating funds, which means paying bills and staff every month is now a significant challenge.

Sooke’s branch 54 has seen similar swings like this in the past, where its operating needs well surpassed what it brought in at the end of the day. Ironic, as last year alone, $42,000 went through the Legion to various community groups, noted the branch’s secretary Merle Fulton.

Only, the Legion doesn’t keep any of it, as it is technically the community’s money.

Fulton said one of the main issues is the stodgy public perception that all legions across Canada are desperately trying to get away from.

“People think veterans come to drink and smoke, and it’s this dark place, and you can’t come and you can’t be involved ... that is not what we are. We want the community to come, hold their events here, come support us, we support you.”

Just recently, the legion held a beer and burger night to support the Sooke Skating Club, as well a similar event and silent auction to raise funds for the Sooke Royal Marine Search and Rescue. It also supports the cadets, Sooke Youth Choir, even Thai Chi classes, among many others.

Problem is, there’s no money coming in to support the Sooke Legion itself, kind of like that kid on the block who gives his lunch away to every other kid on the street, but has none for himself to eat.

Majority of its membership funds don’t stay here either, as each legion only keeps 20 per cent of the $60 fees. In addition, if someone does make a donation, a local branch cannot provide a tax receipt, unless it’s for the Poppy Fund, and none of that goes to a legion branch anyway.

The candle is burning on both ends as well, as said repair bills are starting to mount due to the building’s age, noted branch president Jan Watson.

“We have rather large repair bills coming up, and that’s taking any sort of cushion that we’ve got, because we need to put it back into the building,” she said.

In the last four years, the plumbing downstairs failed, causing three major leaks, the water heater blew, ice machine was dripping on electrical equipment, and the heat pump requires major work and needs replacing, among others. Last Christmas, the heating broke down, causing thousands in repairs.

It goes without saying that, Watson added, if the local branch goes under, the negative impact on the Sooke community could be significant.

“The Cadets will have to find someplace else, the Navy League, Thai Chi, Jazzercize, everybody.”

“We’re big supporters of the community. Now we’re saying, please come and support us,” she said. “We need your help to keep our doors open. If our doors close, we can’t help the vets, or anyone.”

Anyone interested to donate or help out can call Jan Watson or Paul McTavish at 250-642-2052.

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