Woman has been making daily bottle deposits for 21 years, raising $15K for B.C. Cancer Foundation

It's a scene that plays out nearly every single weekday at the B.C. Cancer Foundation office in Vancouver. A small 62-year-old woman comes in the front door, shares an explosive laugh and an infectious smile, and hands over a small amount of cash.

Gia Tran has been collecting bottles and cans in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for more than 2 decades

Gia Tran lets loose a burst of laughter, saying: 'I see people, no work — people tired. I don't want [that]. I want people happy, same as me.' (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

It's a scene that plays out nearly every single weekday at the B.C. Cancer Foundation office in Vancouver. 

A small, 62-year-old woman comes in the front door, shares an explosive laugh and an infectious smile, and hands over a small amount of cash.

Last Friday, Gia Tran gave foundation staff a $10 bill and a toonie. In exchange, she got a handwritten receipt and a few kind words with a smile.

"It's always the same," said Dianne Parker, the 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.'"

The small donations have added up over the 21 years Tran has been collecting bottles and cans and turning the refunds over to the charity. The B.C. Cancer Foundation only has records going back about 10 years, but staff estimates Tran has contributed about $15,000.

Tran collects empty drink containers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"My kids say, 'Mom, I don't want you to go outside. It's too cold,'" Tran said. "I say: 'No, I go. I want to help people. I want to go to the hospital — cancer. I help people.'

"My kids say, 'OK, you go, you go.'" 

Tran lives near Main and East Hastings streets, and typically patrols the area along Hastings for containers. She says it's much better during the summer when more people are outside drinking.

She said cans are preferable, because they aren't as heavy to lug around as bags full of glass bottles. 

"Bottles, I'm not happy," said Tran. "Cans, easy."

Even though her children have tried to get her to slow down, Tran says she ignores them and heads out to collect bottles nearly every day. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Once she feels she's gathered enough containers, Tran takes them to the return depot on foot. She said the bus takes a while, and the drivers limit her load.

"I walk. On the bus I only get one bag, not two bags," said Tran. "I walk, I don't care."

Then she either takes the bus or walks to the foundation's office. On a good day it takes her 45 minutes, one way. Tran says in the winter, the trip can take an hour and a half.

'The joy of our day'

It's not entirely clear why Tran chose the B.C. Cancer Foundation for her years of generosity. At this point, the habit is so entrenched, it appears that she's just as happy to see foundation staff as they are to see her.

"I don't know why," she said. "People happy, I'm happy too."

Tran says bus drivers don't let her board with two bags full of empty drink containers, so she'll often walk to the refund depot instead. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

According to Sarah Roth, chief executive of the B.C. Cancer Foundation, Tran's visits are a daily highlight.

"She is like the joy of our day when she comes, absolutely," said Roth.

"She's just here because of the kindness of her heart, and that then spills into our whole office and it makes everybody smile and it makes everyone feel good," she said.

"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."

"It's an amazing story of gratitude, of altruism," said Roth.

With files from Caroline Chan

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

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About the Author

Rafferty Baker

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker

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