COVID-19 can't deter American Legion Riders' fundraising efforts

A worldwide pandemic forced the cancellation of almost all national American Legion events in 2020, including what would have been the 15th annual American Legion Legacy Run. But the halt to our nation’s day-to-day normalcy for months because of stay-at-home orders and social distancing didn’t bring to a halt the financial needs of college students whose parents had sacrificed their health – and in some cases their lives – in service to their country.

And American Legion Riders across the nation were well aware of that fact, as evidenced by their continued fundraising efforts for the American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund throughout the pandemic. The efforts of the Riders, along with other American Legion Family members, resulted in more than a half a million dollars being raised in 2020 for the fund.

National American Legion Riders Committee Chairman Mark Clark recently shared the results of 2020’s fundraising efforts in a video message. Five of the past six Legacy Runs had raised more than $1 million, but knowing both the social and financial constraints created by the pandemic, Clark said the goal for 2020 had been set at $500,000.

“We knew that when the 2020 Legacy Run was cancelled that we were going to have to find alternative ways to raise money,” Clark said during the video address. “We continued to encourage our department ALR directors to be enthusiastic with their posts and with their chapters to see if they could continue some form of local fundraising. Given the fact the COVID-19 pandemic had placed so many travel restrictions, it was going to be difficult to do it through our normal means. And they went to work.”

By the end of the fundraising effort, a total of $558,044 was collected for the Legacy Fund. “That is an amazing accomplishment in the middle of the COVID pandemic year,” Clark said. “For every state and every person that donated, every dollar matters. Thanks to your generosity, we achieved all of our goals.

“COVID year or no COVID year, the children of those killed in action and the children of those who have come home from war carrying both the invisible and visible scars of war are still going to be going to college this year, and they’re still expecting our help. This fundraising is so critical to us. That’s why our Riders have such a passion for it.”

After the Legacy Run was cancelled, The American Legion created a tiered donation program to provide an alternative way for individual American Legion Family members to contribute to the Legacy Fund, which provides college money for the children of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher.

A goal for the “Virtual Legacy Run” was set at $100,000. “Thanks to your generosity, we blew that out of the water,” Clark said. “We raised over $130,000. That $130,000 … told us there was still a lot of passion out there about this cause.”

Donations poured in from American Legion departments still able to safely conduct in-state Legacy Runs. Maryland’s American Legion Riders raised $47,100 during the department’s annual Gold Star Legacy Run, while similar efforts by Virginia ($32,000) and North Carolina ($23,000) also were successful.

Money also came from the local level. The Department of Minnesota’s in-state ride was cancelled, but the first 10th District American Legion Riders fundraising ride for the Legacy Fund collected $20,000. And American Legion Riders Chapter 6 in Richland County, S.C., reached out to potential donors and was able to collect nearly $20,000 for the Legacy Fund.

And in the Pony Express Ride, a small group of American Legion Riders started out in Los Angeles and collected both money and additional Riders along the way to Indianapolis, where they presented American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford with more than $83,000 for the scholarship fund, which included $46,000 from the Department of Missouri’s in-state Legacy Run.

Clark said seven states each raised more than $40,000 for the Legacy Fund in 2020:

• Illinois -- $66,354

• Missouri -- $55,146

• Maryland – $50,620

• California – $50,256

• South Carolina – $41,840

• Minnesota – $40,870

• Virginia – $40,205.

“I was a first sergeant in Iraq in 2004, and we sent a couple young men from our unit home in caskets. That’s personal to me,” Clark said. “I knew those young men. It hurts my heart to think about them, but it also warms my heart that American Legion Riders and American Legion Family members around the world recognize the importance of this scholarship and take the time to donate.”