How a BC retiree is helping other seniors stay cool during heat waves

One person at a time can make a difference says Wilhelmina Martin, who is collecting used air conditioners for seniors

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Wilhelmina Martin has been called a few things in her life: A candystriper when she was a 14-year-old, an RN when she graduated nursing school in 1974, and just plain “Willy” to friends.

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Now she’s known as “the air-conditioning lady.”

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The 68-year-old Port Moody retiree is asking the public for donations of used portable air conditioners so she can donate the units to other local seniors in need.

“It’s going to be a hot one this year,” said Martin, a longtime volunteer with the Dogwood Pavilion seniors society and Port Moody seniors friendship society.

When the heat dome struck in the summer of 2021, killing 619 people, Martin sprang into action.

“I was watching the stories unfold, and listening to the news. Most of the people who died were seniors. My friends are seniors, my neighbour are seniors. I began calling around, asking if they had cooling, or did they need help,” said Martin.

“I was thinking back to my own circumstances.”

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Fifteen years ago, when she was a full-time caregiver to her late father, she installed a heat pump. He grumbled about the air conditioning, but when the weather heated up, “he was the first person to ask me to turn it on,” said Martin.

“I know that many people are upgrading to heat pumps. I want to connect with those people, to donate the portable units they aren’t using,” said Martin.

That first summer, Martin sourced and donated seven cooling units. Last summer, she was able to donate six, and so far this year she has collected four units.

“A lot of people don’t know where to go to get help,” said Martin, who recalls a low-income senior reaching out to her during the 2021 heat dome. “She had been admitted to the hospital due to heat stroke, and they wouldn’t discharge her unless she could show she had somewhere cool to go.”

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Martin opened up her own home to the senior to get her through the heat wave. She was the first senior Martin sourced a donated air conditioner for.

More than just air conditioning units is needed — Martin said many seniors she donates to can’t afford to run the air conditioners for more than a few minutes a day, because of how it impacts their hydro bills.

“My next overture is going to be to B.C. Hydro to subsidize the cost of extra cooling. There has to be a way of helping low-income seniors with their hydro bills so they can afford to run their air conditioners,” said Martin.

Some seniors are afraid to ask for, or even consider, an air conditioning unit because they are hesitant about the cost.

“The second half of this piece is finding a way to help them pay for it,” said Martin.

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Recently she received an email recently from a man who explained he was dying of cancer.

“He said he’s trying to find the air conditioning lady so that he could help.”

“It’s one person at a time that can make a difference,” said Martin.

Anyone who wants to donate a working portable air conditioning unit can reach out by email to:

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