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Nov. 27, 2020 | Friday
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Bottle drive cancelled, air cadets have drop-off
Parent volunteer Sue Lampman sorts Air Cadet bottle drive donations. (Jessica Maxwell/Niagara Now/The Lake Report)

Bottle drive donations being accepted at a NOTL drop-off location are now the sole fundraising source for the Canadian Air Cadets 809 Squadron. 

The donation bin, at J&S Performance at 901 East and West Line, accepts bottle drive donations all year long. 

“The drop off has been working really well for us,” says Cory Abt, president of the 809 Air Cadet Squadron Sponsoring Committee. 

“We’re pushing it right now because we’ve lost our (door-to-door) bottle drive which was a big tragedy for us,” Abt says. 

As far as actual funds raised this year, the squadron is unsure of where thiings stand. “We have no idea where we are right now because we can’t even get them picked up,” Abt said. 

The 809 squadron usually raises anywhere between $5,000 and $7,000 each year through the bottle drive. 

“I would guess we are definitely going to be down for the year,” Abt says. 

One of the two main bottle drives for the year was previously cancelled due to the weather. Another bottle drive planned this weekend in Virgil has been cancelled due to COVID-19. 

“That was going to kind of make up for the loss earlier in the year and get us back on track,” Abt said. “We don’t normally do one in Virgil and we’ve always wanted to. This was going to be our first one.” 

He is unsure whether the cadets will be able to hit their fundraising goal for this year. “Even with the drop-offs increasing, we won’t hit our targets for the year for sure.”

The drop-off trailer is not a new tool for the cadets' fundraising. It was introduced years ago.

Scott Ruttan was the one who started the drive when he was on the sponsoring committee. His son Jeffrey is an 809 squadron alumnus.  

Scott “is the one that had the vision at the very beginning to start this thing off and it has grown significantly from when he started it. That's for darn sure,” Abt said. “If it wasn’t for his vision on that we would be doing something else entirely."

Jeffrey said his dad was with the sponsoring committee at the time and said, “ 'Well, why don’t we do something a little bit different,' and the bottle drive came up, seeing as there was never a bottle return location in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”

It turned out to be an excellent fundraiser. "The whole town has come together over the years and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger,” Jeffrey said.

It began as one-day drive and "the cadets would go around with parents in different vehicles and we had a drop-off location,” Jeffrey said. 

“We'd have it in the newspapers in the week leading up to 'put your bottles out of this on this day,' and then pickup bottles right at the curb. Then everything would come back to the sorting location.”  

Afterward the bottles would be taken to the beer store on Dieppe Road in St. Catharines to be sorted in the back warehouse and counted by the store's staff. 

The bottle drive never really picked up door-to-door in Virgil and curb-side pick-up was only done in Old Town because there were not enough people to cover both areas at the time.  

As the years went on, the bottle drive turned into a twice a year event because of the overwhelming community support, “and the fact that the beer store wasn't allowing us to bring in that much in one run. So, we had to do it to two separate bottle drives,” Jeffery said. 

“Now, we're to the point where we've got a drop-off location here. People drop off all the time.” 

J&S Performance is the Ruttans family-run business. The drop-off container was donated by Van Noort Florists. 

“Rob and Sharon Van Noort do a lot of work in this too and provide a lot of help,” Scott said. 

“Rob was scrapping out a refrigerated flower truck, so I went to work and took the container off the back and mounted it up here at my yard, and that’s when we started with the drop-offs here.” 

A couple of times a year, bottle donations are moved from the drop-off location and gathered with what they’ve got stored at the greenhouse into the building to be sorted. 

Bottles are sorted by the sponsoring committee, staff members and parent volunteers. The first couple of years of bottle sorting was done in the Ruttans' garage on East and West Line but Scott said they outgrew the space “pretty fast.” Sorting was done in the old Virgil firehall and the Virgil public school before Van Noort Florists came on board. 

Now large four-by-four bins are used to store all the bottles and, “twice a year, the big bins go up to the beer store in Stoney Creek to the main warehouse.”  

The load of bottles got to be so big that they couldn’t do it at Dieppe Road anymore. 

“I don’t know how much money they make a year anymore but suffice to say that it runs the squadron quite comfortably and allows them to have a comfortable bank account.” 

“It’s a non-profit organization, so they can’t have a huge bank account, they can only run on what they have,” Scott said. “My goal when I was a sponsoring committee chairman was to be able to have enough money in the bank to run a squadron for a full year in case something went wrong. Say we lost a bunch of funding or whatever, we would have at least enough money to run the squadron for a full year so we could get back on our feet again, but that has never happened.” 

“With this pandemic, this has allowed us to help the cadets still and they’re still fundraising without being out in the public,” Jeffrey said. 

Now more than ever, Abt said the drop-off location at J&S is critical.  

“That’s going to be huge for us because that’s really our only opportunity to fund the program at all. Our only (current) opportunity to fundraise at all is through Ruttans'. Without that we’d be in big, big trouble.” 

The bottle drive will have to be run differently for the foreseeable future, but Jeffrey has noticed even more drop-offs at the trailer.  

“The door-to-door stuff is going to have to probably be put on hold until this pandemic is over,” Scott said. “But the drop-off here is absolutely overwhelmed right now. It’s busy. There’s people dropping off all day long.”  

Jeffery said “people that maybe weren't donating all of their bottles at all times are now donating all of them because there's nowhere else to take them.” 

The Ruttans are making sure to sort and stack donations so they don’t pile up outside. Scott said that with the pandemic it seems fewer people are going to St. Catharines to return their bottles.  

“It’s unfortunate that this pandemic has happened, but the cadets are going to gain out of it, too,” he said. 

Despite cancellations of drive for now, there's still a possibility of big things to happen for the cadets. “They have lots to look forward to still,” Jeffrey said. 

“One of the big things is the cadet program breeds young leaders and people that are going to help in the community,” he said. “That's one of their big things, to connect and help out in the community as much as they can.” 

Meanwhile, Abt advises: “Don’t sit on your bottles or wait in long lines at the beer store to return them. Bring them out, we are happy to take them to support our program.”  

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