Bright red memorial poppies on jackets and sweaters are a common sight in the days leading up to Nov. 11.
But this year, the treasurer of the Orillia Legion Branch 34's poppy fund swears he sees more bare lapels.
"There are a lot fewer poppies being worn on people," Brian Robertson says. "They just don't know where to get them, and there's nobody there to remind them. "
Orillia's poppy campaign is struggling with being out of sight, out of mind. Robertson says 100 fewer businesses have set out poppy donation boxes this year compared to last because of COVID-19.
"A lot of the stores were closed down, and a lot of them just didn't want them because they didn't have the traffic and were a little afraid of the distancing rules. They didn't accept them," Robertson says.
The pandemic also delivered a blow to poppy campaigns by ending or scaling back canvassing by young volunteers enlisted in cadet programs. In a typical year, cadets would solicit donations for poppies outside grocery, beer, and liquor stores in high traffic areas.
"They go out for three days, at least for our branch," says Crystal Cook, Poppy Chair for Legion Branch 426 in Newmarket. "That's going to have a huge impact on the donations that we receive."
Cook expects poppy donations for 2020 to be 15 to 20,000 dollars below what the legion pulled in last year.
In Orillia, Robertson says people have donated large sums of money for a few poppies, something he says he hasn't seen in 18 years at the legion hall.
Fern Taillefer says a similar trend of more significant, in-person donations is happening at the Legion Branch 147 in Barrie, adding that while only a handful of business owners have their poppy boxes out, their pandemic drive is going better than anticipated.