After World War I, the poppy became abundant in Europe. Scientists attributed the growth to soil in France and Belgium becoming enriched with lime from the rubble left by the war. The red poppy came to symbolize the blood shed during battle following the publication of the wartime poem In Flanders Fields. The poem was written by Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae, a medical doctor, while serving on the front lines.
In 1920, the poppy became the official flower of The American Legion Family, and, in 2017, the Legion Family called upon Congress to designate the Friday before Memorial Day as National Poppy Day®. We are encouraged to wear a red poppy to remember the fallen and support the living who have worn our nation’s uniform. Just as important, we should encourage others to do the same, while seeking donations to assist veterans, military, and their families.
Traditional crepe paper poppies are handcrafted by veterans with assistance from unpaid volunteers. The veterans earn a small stipend from making poppies, which helps supplement their income and makes them feel more self-sufficient. The physical and mental activity provides many therapeutic benefits for the veteran.
Here are four helpful steps to prepare American Legion Auxiliary members at the unit level for the May event:
DISTRIBUTE THE POPPY SYMBOL IN NON-TRADITIONAL WAYS
There is now much greater flexibility to use the symbolic red poppy in many ways, shapes, and forms to raise money to support veterans, military, and their families. We are no longer limited to using only the crepe paper poppies, and poppy labels no longer have to include the calendar year.
For many years, the Illinois American Legion has used a fabric poppy manufactured by a veteran-owned business. Although a different design and feel from the ALA’s traditional red crepe paper poppy, the fabric flower is attractive, meets The American Legion’s specifications, and is easy to assemble.
Auxiliary members also can distribute the poppy symbol in non-traditional displays. Some examples to maximize your donations:
- Poppy buttons
- Crafts (think ornaments, hair barrettes, wreaths, suncatchers, etc.)
WHAT SUPPLIES DO I NEED FOR NATIONAL POPPY DAY®?
While National Poppy Day® is still a few months away, now is a great time to prepare! If ALA units wish to distribute the traditional crepe paper poppies, they will need to procure an adequate supply of poppies, either from veteran poppy makers within their department/state, from American Legion Flag & Emblem Sales (www.emblem.legion.org), or from other departments within the American Legion Auxiliary. If you’d like to learn how to assemble poppies, refer to the ALA Poppy Program Guide which can be found in the Members Only section at www.ALAforVeterans.org/resources. Another popular alternative is the fabric poppy from the Department of Illinois, which is available for purchase in packs of 25 through Emblem Sales.
As a way to collect donations, ALA-branded cans are also available through Emblem Sales. If you’d like to make your own, you can find a “do it yourself” printing guide at www.ALAforVeterans.org/programs/poppy.
USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT YOUR EVENTS
One of the key factors to having a successful National Poppy Day® is making the public aware of your events and activities. Many American Legion Auxiliary units have turned to unique and creative methods to create public awareness. ALA Unit 2 in Alamo, Texas, along with Legionnaires, distributed poppies at their local Walmart the day before Veterans Day. ALA Unit 360 “Miss Poppy” Anna Grace Herling in Weatherly, Pa., presented poppies to veterans at the Weatherly Area School District’s Veterans Day program.
Here’s an easy way to communicate the poppy message for everybody – social media. With the simple click of a button, you can share your National Poppy Day® plans with all of your followers! You can also request to join the national ALA Poppy Program Facebook group at www.Facebook.com/groups/ALApoppy. There, you and other American Legion Auxiliary members can share ideas, projects, and information about our Poppy Program!
I’VE RAISED THE MONEY…NOW HOW CAN THE FUNDS BE USED?
It’s up to each American Legion Auxiliary unit as to where they want their Poppy Funds used, as long as the unit follows the national Poppy Fund guidelines:
- For the rehabilitation of veterans honorably discharged from the United States Armed Forces after April 6, 1917.
- For the welfare of the families of veterans of the above-named time period.
- For the rehabilitation of hospitalized military service personnel returning home and awaiting discharge who require treatment in service hospitals.
- For the welfare of veterans, active military personnel, and the families of veterans and active military personnel of the above-named period where financial and medical need is evident.
- For the purpose of poppy kits and supplies used to make symbolic poppies and poppy items that will be distributed for donations to the Poppy Fund.
ALA units may also send their poppy money to their department headquarters earmarked for a state Veterans Creative Arts Festival, or units may send their poppy money to American Legion Auxiliary National Headquarters earmarked for the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.
National Poppy Day® will be here before you know it! For more information and valuable resources about this annual event, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org. You can also refer to the ALA Poppy Program Guide, or contact your unit, department, or division Poppy Program chairman. To see what The American Legion Family is doing for this special day, visit www.legion.org/poppyday.
This story was originally published in the February 2018 Auxiliary magazine.
What does your unit have planned for National Poppy Day®? Share in the comments!