Whole Foods poppy controversy may help local legion campaigns

While Canada was riled by a supermarket chain’s ban on employees wearing poppies in the leadup to Remembrance Day, Angus Stanfield diligently went about his business ­Friday helping to raise funds for Greater Victoria’s veterans.

There were donation envelopes to open and record, poppy boxes to collect and replenish and flu vaccinations for veterans to organize — among many other things during his day that began in the early morning hours.

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If anything, the chairman of the poppy and remembrance committee for the capital region sees the national condemnation of Whole Foods’ initial refusal — it later relented — to allow its employees to wear the poppy as a spark to fuel lagging donations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, leaders of the federal parties, as well as B.C. Premier John Horgan and mayors across Canada criticized the company’s strict work-­uniform policy that doesn’t allow employees to show symbols of “causes” while on the job.

The U.S.-based Whole Foods reversed course by noon on ­Friday, saying: “Our intention was never to single out the poppy or to suggest a lack of support for Remembrance Day and the heroes who have bravely served their country.

“Given the learnings of today, we are welcoming team members to wear the poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day.”

Stanfield said the brouhaha end up being helpful.

“I think all this attention will help people stop and think about poppies and what they mean,” he said. “This is going to help.”

The region’s poppy fund raised about $200,000 last year, helping former service ­personnel with food, medical, transportation and housing expenses.

The fund also ­provides support for veterans suffering post-traumatic stress, and the operation of facilities such as Broadmead Legion Manor and Cockrell House.

But Stanfield said the legion expects to collect much less this year because of COVID-19.

“We have boxes out and we’re in the malls, but there just isn’t the number of people out this year,” he said.

“Everything is pretty quiet out there. We’re starting to see some of our mail-outs coming back [with ­donations], so it’s hard to tell right now.

“We’re optimistic.”

Stanfield said the decision by Whole Foods isn’t new.

He said the same thing ­happened several years ago with Target — another U.S. chain that came into Canada (albeit briefly).

“They backed off pretty quick on that one,” recalls ­Stanfield, citing national alarm and pushback.

Several local grocery stores voiced their support for veterans and the poppy campaign.

Sobeys, parent company of Thrifty Foods, issued a statement saying employees can wear poppies at work, although those actively preparing foods do not because of the pin. The company said many employees wear a poppy sticker.

Robert Jay, vice-president of Fairway Markets, said employees can wear poppies and the store supports the Royal ­Canadian Legion by putting poppy collection boxes at its checkouts.

“We proudly support the legion, the poppy program and the men and women who serve,” Jay said in an interview.

“People served, lives were lost … it’s a way we honour them.”

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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