VANCOUVER (CityNews) — When 82-year-old Annie Chu stopped coming around the Strathcona neighbourhood collecting cans and bottles, people started wondering.
For as long as Andrew Dadson can remember, Chu was a fixture in the community dropping by his home and art studio to collect the containers, and to brighten the day with her cheerful signature greeting of “Handsome boy!” or “Beautiful lady!” to area residents.
Dadson said their relationship started 18 years ago when he would see her at the park during soccer games where she would collect the bottles. She later found out where Dadson lived and worked and would come around for a visit to pick up the recycling he left out for her. He would, in turn, help her fix up her cart.
Once the recycling was collected, she would sometimes return the money she gained from the more expensive items, he added with a chuckle.
The exchanges grew friendlier and Chu would always have candy in her pocket for his son August and the neighbourhood children, Dadson recalled. Just two years ago, Dadson was invited to spend Chinese New Year with Chu where he met people who worked in the local shop while eating the food Chu happily “shoved” at him.
“She’s seen us from our 20s, into families and having children, and growing up. So she’s been part of my family for a long time now,” Dadson said.
He started a fundraising initiative for her this week after learning she’s battling terminal cancer and undergoing radiation treatment.
“She doesn’t have any other family, just her big extended Strathcona family. She would never ask and is probably going to hate receiving anything, but I know we can show her how much we love her,” the page reads.
From the little Dadson could understand over the years, he learned that Chu was born in Vietnam and came to Canada in the 70s. She lived in a social housing complex in Chinatown alone, until this year when her cousin flew from the U.S. to look after her.
“I knew we were her family in Strathcona. When she fell ill, that we were the ones she called and I wanted to try to do something for her. With COVID, it’s been hard to reach out and communicate and so I feel grateful that we could do this now and that it’s had such an amazing response,” Dadson said.
Over the 15 years he’s known her, Alex Tedlie-Stursberg has received dozens of thank-you notes and canned goods from Chu in exchange for the recycling he saves for her. One of his favourite return gifts from Chu was a giant can of baby corn the size of his head, he recalls.
Her tenacity and hard work — rain or shine– makes her a “personal hero” of his.
“I’m sure it’s the same for other people, but there’s a concern she puts in for my personal well-being. She’ll stop me on the street sometimes and be like, ‘Look, you’re working too hard, I need you to not work so hard.’ And I’d be like, ‘How are you saying that to me when you work the hardest of anyone I know?'” he said.
“But I love that about her. And she always wants to make sure that I have a nice partner. That’s very important to her, that I have love in my life,” Tedlie-Stursberg said.
He’s bracing for what Chu’s loss will mean to himself and his community.
“We live in a city that is a challenging city to make it in. A lot of the time, it’s cold, it’s grey, we just mind our own business in Vancouver and you have somebody who pulls you out of that — whose sincerity and authenticity as a human is completely disarming.”
Since starting the fundraising campaign for Chu, Dadson and Tedlie-Stursberg have been surprised at the outpouring of stories others have shared.
Tedlie-Stursberg said he would hear about her pitching in to tend neighbours’ gardens and helping out inside the homes of others.
“I found out since the fundraising just how much she’s been loved. Lots of people knew her, and if they didn’t know her really well, they definitely noticed when she was not around, not coming by. She’s missed and she was a big part of the community,” Dadson added.