Day by day, dollar by dollar, a single woman has donated an estimated $15,000 to the British Columbia Cancer Foundation over the last 21 years.
Gia Tran, who is 62, spends every day patrolling the sidewalks of her neighborhood in downtown Vancouver, B.C., collecting empty bottles. She gathers all she can carry, bulging plastic bags hooked on her arm, and then walks to the bottle return depot to trade them in for cash. Just a few cents each, but it adds up.
Each weekday (when the depot is open) she earns $10, maybe as much as $20. Then she walks it directly to the home office of the British Columbia Cancer Foundation, to donate her earnings with a bright air.
“It’s always the same,” said Dianne Parker, a receptionist at the foundation’s office. “She comes in with a big smile and she always says, ‘I love everybody here, and I want to help people.’”
That fits with what Tran says about her own persistence, going out to hunt recyclables all year-round, over her children’s objections in the winter.
“I say: ‘No, I go. I want to help people,’” she describes herself as arguing when her children would rather she stay home in the cold.
Tran could take the bus, but the bus drivers tend not to let her carry so much, so if she has a large haul, she walks. She says the trip takes as much as an hour and a half, more if she’s found a lot of glass bottles since they’re heavier than plastic or cans.
Sarah Roth, the chief executive of the British Columbia Cancer Foundation, loves seeing Tran each day.
“She is like the joy of our day when she comes, absolutely,” Roth told CBC. “No matter what kind of day you’re having, when Gia comes in, you forget about it and you just focus on her warmth and her laughter and her true benevolence.”