‘There’s no words’: Thousands raised to help beloved Vancouver advocate retire – BC

A longtime volunteer and advocate for Vancouver’s queer community says she’s at a loss for words after an online fundraiser raked in more than $10,000 to help her retire.

Easter Armas, 65, chose a life of service that didn’t provide her with much long-term financial stability. The San Francisco native moved to Vancouver as a young adult, and in the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, started a program serving free meals to those living with the condition in the region.

Her efforts blossomed into a charitable organization with a decades-long legacy, A Loving Spoonful, which still operates today. It now serves more than 250 clients in Metro Vancouver.

“Just the context of what Easter did was in time when a lot of gay men were frozen,” said Edgar Sandulo, Armas’ friend and the organizer of the fundraiser for her retirement.

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“We were devastated, we were afraid for our lives … we were very lucky to have women, straight and gay, that really stepped up and were there for us. Easter was that woman.”

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According to the GoFundMe campaign, which calls Armas a “community legend,” Armas supported other charitable organizations in her life as well, such as the Vancouver Friends for Life Society, which provides meals and health-care services to people living with life-altering illnesses.

She also worked as a legal assistant, supporting LGBTQ2 refugees, same-sex sponsors and their loved ones.

Sandulo said the thought of Armas having to leave her home one day and grapple with soaring rent pushed him to start the fundraiser. The goal is to raise enough for Armas to take of herself until January, then come up with a longer-term plan.

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“Honestly I think it’s the least we can do,” Sandulo said.

“Easter just has done everything that she’s done, making everything she’s done a lot of fun. She also has the ability to make everybody who has contributed feel like they’re special, feel like they’re part of the solution, and that their participation is valid, important and celebrated.”

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Donations to the GoFundMe campaign are now being matched up to $1,500 by the Dogwood Monarchist Society, which crowned Armas as Emperor in 1983. The non-profit provides social interaction within Vancouver’s LGBTQ2 community and often undertakes charitable work as well.

Of the efforts to support her thus far, Armas said, “There’s no words.”

In recent months, she added, she has struggled to pay for medical supplies that aren’t covered by public health care, as well as other increased costs of living. Her federal pension didn’t begin on time due to an error, she said.

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“I think the most simplest and something that doesn’t sound disingenuous is thank you,” Armas told Global News. “It’s a great lesson for me to be more thankful. I’m a hermit, really, so I should be more out … be part of the community together.”

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Last year, a report from the B.C. seniors advocate found that 84 per cent of low-income seniors in the province ran out of money for food at some point, and in the last five years, use of food banks by B.C. seniors increased 78 per cent.

Forty-nine per cent of low-income seniors polled further couldn’t afford a major repair needed for safety or accessibility.

In an interview, Poverty Reduction Minister Sheila Malcolmson said she is “immensely grateful” for the hard work of advocates like Armas, who upheld social justice systems at a time when governments “were not investing in people.” It’s “very troubling,” she added, that Armas is facing serious financial struggles as she approaches retirement.

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“We know that there are a lot of people that are really struggling with the cost of living, so we’re continuing to fill the gap, deal with emergencies like Easter’s,” Malcolmson said.

“We’re trying to build up that social safety net and protections and supports for people so they don’t get into an emergency like this in the first place.”

In May, the B.C. government reported $2 billion in spending over the past five years to expand and improve upon care for B.C. seniors in the primary care, home care, long-term care and assisted living sector. The minister further said the seniors’ supplement in B.C. doubled in 2021.

The province expects to release a new poverty reduction strategy in 2024, Malcolmson added.

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