— By Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report (Photo: Somer Slobodian)
It was the perfect day for a bottle drive. On Saturday, September 24, a steady stream of drivers arrived at the parking lot of the Royal Canadian Legion 124 branch to donate their empty bottles to the 809 Newark Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron.
Squadron sponsorship committee treasurer Christine Lett, along with her husband Paul, led the drive at the legion with some current and past cadets.
Lett said air cadets is great for kids.
“I see the benefits. Shy, quiet, tiny little kids coming in and then you see them grow through and become leaders,” Lett said about her own kids, who are now too old for the program.
“The point of the program (is) to enhance, to learn and to serve,” she added.
The 809 Newark squadron accepts kids between the ages of 12 and 18 and helps them learn valuable life skills.
The program promotes physical fitness, leadership skills, public speaking and community service as well, Lett said.
“It’s changed my life in ways I can’t describe,” said Flight Sgt. Shay Vidal.
Vidal has been in cadets for six years now. He recently came back from London, Ont., where he received his pilot’s licence at the London International Airport with the Diamond Flight Centre.
From studying on his own time and taking extra courses to making sure he had good grades, he said he worked hard to secure a spot at the training centre.
The training was covered by the Regional Cadet Support Unit. Vidal had the chance to fly twice a day for several weeks, meet new people and learn valuable life skills.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said.
Next, he plans to go to university for his commercial pilot’s licence.
As the clock ticked closer to 9:30 a.m, cars arrived, each with trunks full of empty bottles. As the drivers popped open the trunks, the cadets were there ready to unload.
“In our last training year, we did over $20,000 in bottle returns,” said Lett.
However, this bottle drive didn’t attract as many cars as the previous ones.
“It was a half of the volume that we did in our January one,” said Cory Abt, chair of the squadron sponsorship committee. The squadron also collected bottles in May.
The reduction is somewhat expected, since COVID is over and more people are going out rather than staying in, he said.
The money from each bottle drive goes toward anything the cadets might need.
“Like when they go for their pilot’s licence, they do have additional costs involved in that so we were able to cover those things that (they) need,” said Lett.
Cadets need to go through certain testing and medicals, and the money from the bottle drives helps pay for all their training needs.
“There’s no cost to the kids in the program,” she said.
The money also pays for fun outings for the cadets, like trips to Canada’s Wonderland and movie premieres.
The Legion was one of three drop-off locations as Cornerstone Church in Virgil and the St. Davids Lions Club were also accepting donations.
All bottles are stored at Van Noort Florists, which offers a large holding and sorting spot. Then, the Stoney Creek beer outlet collects them.
Even as the sun beat down, the cadets kept busy unloading and organizing the bottles.
Abt is hoping to make a few changes to boost the next bottle drive. He’s also hoping to do a cadet recruitment blitz.
“We have a fantastic program. And not everybody knows about it,” he said.