Gerty Ryza, left, a director with the LA Centre for Active Living, has been busy delivering meals to seniors during the COVID-19 crisis. Photo by Kris Dmytrenko

Gerty delivers hot food and plenty of smiles

  • June 25, 2020

As a valued volunteer with the Loyola Arrupe Centre for Active Living for close to six years, Gerty Ryza is good at a lot of things, not the least of which is putting a smile on people’s faces.

In addition to working to help connect local Toronto seniors to the services offered by the organization, the vibrant 71-year-old also serves as a board member. With most programs halted due to COVID-19, Ryza has been helping the LA Centre deliver hot meals to the homes of seniors in need and has been bringing joy and encouragement to everyone she encounters along the way.

“I think it’s just because I’m a bubbly personality,” said Ryza, whose youthful enthusiasm is punctuated by her dyed purple hairdo. “I find when I have troubles at home, when I go out my door, nobody knows I’ve had problems. I love being around people and they are attracted to that. When I started doing things with the LA Centre people just started coming.”

Though she emits a positive attitude, Ryza admits that life for her has not been easy. Her family, originally from Poland, emigrated to Canada in 1952 when she was just a young child. Throughout the years she battled many low moments, including the loss of her first husband to cancer which left her a single parent. Later she lost another partner to the same illness and was devastated at the loss of her beloved dog in 2014.

Now retired from the wholesale retail company she worked at for many years, she says she knows what it’s like to fall on hard times. She has had to take advantage of the food distribution services offered by the LA Centre from time to time and encourages other seniors in need to do the same.

“Us mature baby boomers, we have a lot of pride and would rather do without than stand in a food line,” said Ryza. “I ask them if they don’t think I’m not having to swallow my pride to stand in line but to heck with what people think. I feel better because I go home with some food in my stomach, and they say, ‘You know what, you’re right.’ ”

Ryza admits the loss she experienced took a toll on her faith and says at one point she stopped talking to God. Ironically it was another tragedy, the loss of her mother, that renewed her faith and ignited in her a desire to give back.

“My mom and I used to talk to each other every day but I noticed she was not picking up the phone,” said Ryza. “I walked to her apartment and had the keys to unlock the door but the chain latch was on. I knew something was wrong, but I just couldn’t get in.”

Ryza says she squeezed her arms through the crack in the door and with all the faith inside of her said, ‘Oh God, please, if ever I needed you now,’ and like a miracle, the latch undid and fell into the palm of her hand. 

“God heard me,” said Ryza, who was able to rescue her mother from a stroke and spend the final days of her life with her. “I will swear to the day I die that I know who helped me at that moment.”

From that time on Ryza said her perspective on life shifted and she has been committed to helping others in need ever since.

“This part of my life is all about me giving back and and just being grateful for what I get and what I have. I’m a happy person now and hope to continue to bring bit of a joy to other people as well.”

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