He’s 70 percent disabled and walks with a cane because of back, knee and hip problems, but Chris Ryan says none of that slows him down when it comes to helping his fellow veterans who have fallen on harder times.
“Every morning I wake up with pain, but I feel blessed that I can get up and help others,” said Ryan, 41, of Whitestone. “I’m in pain constantly, but I don’t let it stop me.”
For the last two years, he has been collecting used clothing, new toiletries and occasionally food to help homeless veterans throughout the city. Called Clothes to Home, his one-man operation utilizes his 2003 Dodge Caravan to pick up donations and drop them off where needed.
“When I went to the VA Hospital in Manhattan for treatment, I saw lots of people waiting who are all homeless and live near the facility,” he said. “I’m blessed with family and felt I had to do something.”
The former businessman served in the Army as an artillery driver from 1995 to 1998 during the no-fly zone enforcement and sustained his injuries while serving in Iraq. He’s had 10 broken bones, suffered cancer in his feet and is 65 percent deaf, all service-related.
Ryan has developed a network of donors through his website and on Facebook. “One girl got me 150 bags of clothes,” he said, adding that he takes donations for men, women and children since he also drops off clothing to Bridge to Life, a Queens group that works with pregnant women.
“For them, I also collect strollers and carriages,” Ryan said.
In the winter, when he can, he delivers buttered rolls and coffee to the homeless vets in Manhattan and also deals with shelters and soup kitchens both in the city and on Long Island.
“It broke my heart to see all the homeless veterans,” Ryan said. “These people have nothing. I live in a good neighborhood and am supported in my efforts by my brother and sister and parents.”
He lives on his $1,000 monthly disability check, with half going to his gas-guzzling van. “I’d like to get a bigger van,” Ryan said. “It would hold more things and be more efficient than my old car.”
A lifelong Whitestone resident, Ryan’s future plans include to go to school to study to be an X-ray, cardio or ultrasound technician.
Aside from spending much of his time driving to pick up donations, he goes for physical therapy regularly and visits senior centers once a month to talk to the elderly about identity theft.
Ryan does not accept monetary donations. To contact him for pickups, call (631) 873-5854 or go to his website, clothestohome.org. The Queens Chronicle at 62-33 Woodhaven Blvd. in Rego Park will accept clothing for him but it must be dropped off in large garbage bags. Office hours are Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.