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Column: Pick up a poppy or two

We're coming up on a couple of really big, important weekends in the world of military and veterans affairs. This next Saturday is Armed Forces Day, and a World War II reenactment event has been scheduled at the Dakota County Fairgrounds to coincide with the holiday. The following weekend, Warrior to Citizen will hold its second annual Military Family Day at the Dakota County Fairgrounds. And the weekend after is one of the biggies -- Memorial Day.

But along with all of those holidays and activities comes another -- Buddy Poppy Day and Poppy Day, two separate but equally important days.

What's the difference? The VFW holds Buddy Poppy days. The American Legion holds Poppy days. The Buddy Poppy and the Poppy are visibly different, but the tale behind them is the same. What's more, the proceeds are used for something much, much larger than just the technical language that separates the two programs.

I can't speak to the VFW's program. But I can speak to the Legion's. Here's what I know:

In November, 1918, Moina Belle Michael, "The Poppy Lady" from Georgia, distributed poppies to businessmen and asked them to wear the poppy as a tribute to those who died in battle. During the early 1920s, at its national conventions, The American Legion and its Auxiliary adopted the poppy as its memorial flower, and mandated that contributions received from the distribution of the poppies be used for the sole purpose of aiding veterans and their families.

Through the years, the Poppy program has grown to meet the needs of America's veterans. Today, distribution of the poppy assists hospitalized and disabled veterans in need of rehabilitation and financial assistance. It still remains as a symbol honoring those whose lives were sacrificed for America's freedom.

Both the American Legion's Poppies and the VFW's Buddy Poppies are made by hospitalized and disabled veterans. Thousands of veterans and their families benefit from the proceeds of poppy distribution. The financial assistance provided to them helps to defray housing, clothing, education, medical, transportation and many other daily expenses.

I've done a lot of reading and preparation for promoting poppies this year. It comes with that whole Farmington American Legion Auxiliary president job I've taken on. But here's the stuff I can tell you because I've gotten the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with experience.

Last year, Farmington's Auxiliary earned just short of $1,400 from poppy distribution. Every penny donated to the poppy distribution goes to veterans. Earlier this year, we used some of that money to buy a television for the Hastings Veterans Home, as well as several new alarm clocks for them. We also used some of our poppy funds to make a donation to Warrior to Citizen, as well as to purchase birthday cards to send to veterans in the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

VFW members and Auxiliary members will be out distributing Buddy Poppies this Friday. The Farmington American Legion Auxiliary Unit 189 will distribute Poppies Friday, May 21.

My own distribution experience is limited, but I look at the men and women of our VFW and American Legion who have done poppy distribution for years and I have to give them a lot of credit. It can be a long couple of hours, standing outside the doors of these businesses.

Distributing poppies is a labor of love. We do it because we love our veterans. We love our country and our freedom. We do it because the poppies are a visible reminder of the price of war and the sacrifice of millions of lives. When you think about all our veterans have given us, it seems wearing a poppy is the least we can do to say "thank you."

Please support both the Farmington VFW Post 7662 and the Farmington American Legion Auxiliary Unit 189 in their poppy distribution this month.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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