American Legion Auxiliary volunteers will distribute handmade red poppies at Safeway on May 17 and 18. 

They will accept donations for wounded veterans, although it isn’t mandatory.

Hospitalized veterans make the flowers and are paid for their efforts, said American Legion Auxiliary poppy chairman Betty Green.

“Usually, people who take a poppy will donate,” Green said. “It’s anywhere from a dollar to $20. Just depends on what they want to give. It’s just how people feel about veterans and how the served their country.”

This year, 5,000 poppies were ordered. Most were sent through the mail, with 200 sent through the American Legion newsletter, she said.

As more and more people have started to read the newsletter online, fewer poppies are sent out in the newsletter, so about 1,400 letters with poppies and self-addressed envelopes were sent out instead, Green said.

“We had to spend a lot more on postage this year,” she said.

Millions of bright red poppies will be distributed by auxiliary volunteers around the country, she said.

The poppy tradition is part of Memorial Day celebrations. It was common after World War II, but the fashion has somewhat waned, Green said.

“It used to be big after WWII,” Green said, “As a kid, poppies were big. Back then everybody wore a poppy.”

The tradition was inspired by a poem written by Lt. Col. John McCrae of the Canadian Forces.

“I think it’s very interesting,” Green said. “After World War I, McCrae was looking at the cemetery with white crosses. And in between, there were these beautiful little flowers popping up. The poppies are a flower that can grow in pretty devastating conditions.”

All donations are used to assist and support veterans and their families, Green said.

“The poppy also reminds the community of the past sacrifices and continuing needs of our veterans,” she said.

Traditionally, men wear poppies in their hats and woman wear them on a blouse or dress, she said. Some auxiliary members have made corsages out of them.

The American Legion Auxiliary adopted the poppy as its memorial flower in 1921.

While people may be more familiar with the California Poppy, a bright orange, the ones used as part of Memorial Day celebrations are red, because that’s the type of poppy found in the cemeteries of Belgium, where the poem was written.

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