American Legion Auxiliary members have planned special events throughout the year to highlight the ALA’s 100th anniversary of serving veterans, the military, and their families. Members postponed all in-person celebrations and conventions, along with most mission-related projects, as a way to help ensure the safety of our Legion Family during COVID-19. With Memorial Day celebrations on pause, ALA members cultivated creative, no-contact ways to still honor National Poppy Day.
Three days before National Poppy Day, Kathi Carney, president of Unit 45 in Greenbrier, Tenn., decided to host a contactless drive-thru poppy distribution at the Greenbrier American Legion post. Carney and Unit 45 had always said their post home was a perfect place to host drive-thru events, which led to the National Poppy Day project.
“A 10-minute conversation on the phone with my treasurer turned into one of the best events we have had as a unit,” said Carney. “Everyone participated in the last-minute planning, and as a team, we succeeded in creating something quite wonderful.”
The whole unit dropped what they were doing and dedicated their next few days to help decorate and set up their unit’s first poppy distribution drive-thru. After careful, yet quick discussion, Unit 45 decided the safest and most efficient way to distribute poppies was to create a no-contact clothesline system. They used target stands from their annual turkey shoot event to keep the clothesline secure, and the unit saved money by utilizing signs and props used in past events to decorate the drive-thru and post home.
Providing leftover poppies from last year, Unit 45 members took necessary precautions and wore gloves and masks to place each poppy in individual sealed bags, then they dangled them on the “Poppy Fence” with clothespins. Drivers followed an easy path to the fence and were able to pull the poppy bag off the clothespin without touching anything else. Several buckets were hung along the clothesline, creating a contactless and safe way to drop in donations. They also lined the drive-thru exit with Legion Family signs and a ‘Thank you for your support’ sign.
“In times of uncertainty, people always feel connected to our military and veterans,” said Carney. “We were astonished at the donations we received even at a time when people’s finances may not be the best.”
With only a few days until National Poppy Day, Unit 45 Junior members had quickly started promoting the event on Facebook and other social media platforms. Carney sent information to local media to help market the event. One of Greenbrier’s local newspapers attended the drive-thru and wrote a story about the safe poppy distribution project that Unit 45 had accomplished.
“You have to learn how to market these events. Get it on social media; contact local media outlets,” added Carney. “You need to think outside the box. You can’t keep doing things the same old way.”
Unit 45 may have inspired and led this creative project, but it was a Legion Family effort to complete it. Everyone pitched in to help by setting up signs, maneuvering a clear path for cars, decorating handmade posters, posting on social media, and not to mention the time spent setting everything up and taking it down within a few short days.
“Everything we do is really a Legion Family affair because we are such a tight group,” said Carney. “We promote that we are a Family. Yeah, we are members of different organizations, but we are all one Family.”
Carney and Unit 45 members decided to host the National Poppy Day drive-thru as an annual event. They bounced around ideas that will improve next year’s event and welcome a larger crowd. The unit may have only had a few days to organize their poppy distribution project, but they already have a great start for next year.
“We learned that we just need to find a way to do something to remember our veterans,” added Carney. “We cannot let them be forgotten, even if that means coming up with a unique way of honoring Memorial Day.”
This article was originally published in the August 2020 Auxiliary magazine.