Dan Kroffat hasn’t spent “five minutes” in the service, and has no military history in his family. But when he found out about poppy boxes in Cochrane, Alberta, being stolen, he felt empowered to act.
“When I dug in and found out that there are hundreds of veterans in Canada living on the streets in poverty, several thousands living below the poverty line, I was never aware of those stats,” Kroffat said. “When I heard that, I said, ‘Enough’s enough.'”
Kroffat, the inventor of the now-infamous ladder match, saw an article in the Calgary Sun two years ago that indicated the Royal Canadian Legion’s Calgary Poppy Fund lost about $2,000 due to theft from poppy boxes.
He immediately started a campaign to retrieve the funds. A local car dealership, Cochrane Toyota, became the “command station,” Kroffat said, and within a few weeks, citizens brought in $9,000.
“After that, I realized the public have an appetite for standing behind our veterans,” Kroffat said, “and this was just a Band-Aid fix in my opinion.”
Original boxes ‘too vulnerable’
In studying video of the thefts, Kroffat said, he “ascertained that over 90 percent of the theft was spontaneous.”
That in mind, Kroffat approached a manufacturer and drafted up a box based on the look of a wooden matchbox.
The other boxes, according to Kroffat, were “too vulnerable” and made out of a heavy paper. Despite the “world changing daily,” Kroffat said, the boxes themselves remained the same. In hopes of helping offset theft, Kroffat said he realized a more-stable box had to be created.
Kroffat’s design follows that of the original, only that it’s metal. He has no background in woodworking or design; he just had a “simple concept” that E.G.B. Manufacturing brought to life.
He then found a sponsor to cover the cost of 50 boxes being tested in Cochrane. Since his boxes have been put to use, donors have been “much more generous,” according to Kroffat.
“Not one box was stolen,” Kroffat said. “But what we had was increased donations in 50s and 100 [dollar] bills.”
Aiding a Legion in British Columbia
Kroffat later learned that the Legion post in Kelowna, British Columbia, had problems paying taxes. The post, which was assisted with its tax issue by a ladies auxiliary group, has more than 600 members, and Kroffat was asked if he could bring the boxes to the post.
“When [board member Graem Wells] called me, he said he was aware of the success of the new boxes from last year in Cochrane and hoped I could come there to Summerland and help them with their fundraising this year with the boxes,” Kroffat said.
Then an American, Frank Ferrara, who landed in Kelowna about five years ago, offered to pay for the boxes. Ferrera, owner of Ferrera’s Italian Market, was “very receptive to the concept” of the anti-theft boxes, according to Kroffat.
Ferrara said Kroffat brought the concept of the anti-theft boxes to his attention in June, but having lived in Canada for five years, he already was familiar with the poppy tradition. Ferrara, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1989 to 1995, said he has “a soft spot” for veterans “and for those who’ve gone out and sacrificed” for their country.
“I’ve always felt that way,” Ferrara said. “Not only [about] the current service members but the veterans, the older gentlemen that went out and fought.”
Though Kroffat and Ferrara haven’t known each other “very long,” Ferrara said Kroffat’s dedication to the cause does not come as a surprise.
“He’s passionate about the things he gets involved in,” Ferrara said. “He cares deeply about not only this particular cause or this particular event, but others as well. And what I’ve learned about Dan is when he gets involved in something, he goes 1,000 percent.”
In August, Kroffat received an award for community dedication for his work as part of Canada’s celebration of its 150 years as a country. He also was presented with a certificate of appreciation in February.
Blake Richards, Member of Parliament for Banff-Airdrie, spoke recently in the House of Commons about Kroffat’s initiative and “planted the seed” to take the project “coast to coast,” according to Kroffat.
“I think the economics of it would change the whole outlook of our veterans’ lives,” Kroffat said.
For more information or to donate to the Calgary Poppy Fund visit its website.