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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 17, 2020
He'll soon have a drop-off point at the St. John's Farmers Market
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Gerry Ryan, an iron worker by trade, says it “totally obliterated” the construction industry.
“(There was) no prospects of work at all, basically, for all trades in Newfoundland,” he said. “That gave me some time to reflect and focus a little more on my entrepreneurship.”
For the last 15 years, Ryan has been maintaining a small IT business on the side called Gerry Ryan’s Panoptic Computer Solutions.
It’s mostly a hobby, he says, but refurbishing computers has always interested him, despite his family not being able to afford a PC growing up.
“In Colliers, Newfoundland, in the ‘80s, employment was non-existent, so I grew up with nothing,” Ryan said. “Whenever I had the opportunity to actually sit in front of a personal computer, be it at a relative’s house or a friend’s house, I was all about it. I would soak it up.”
He said if he had received a personal computer around that age, it would have been life-changing.
Now, the 40-year-old father of two school-age children, said he’s been thinking a lot about the possibility that school will be online for the upcoming year.
“I can’t see parents sending their kids back to school, even if there’s one active case in the province,” he said.
And all the parents he’s personally spoken with have shared similar thoughts.
Ryan now lives in Avondale and says a lot of people in Conception Bay work in construction.
“With everyone out of work, struggling financially, it’s going to be very difficult for parents to provide the necessary equipment for online learning,” Ryan said. “I took it upon myself to solicit donations from my customer base, refurbish the equipment and distribute it for free.”
In July, the provincial government announced it will be spending $20 million on laptops for teachers and Chromebooks for children in Grade 7 and up. But from conversations Ryan has been having with parents, some don’t want to avail of those services.
“I don’t know if it’s a pride thing,” Ryan said. “(But) I’ve heard parents say they don’t want to be held financially responsible for the equipment that they receive from the government in case it breaks.”
Lindsay Oates grew up in Colliers and knows Ryan well. When she heard the news that schools would be closing in March due to the pandemic, she worried about the kids who wouldn’t have access to technology. She felt like she was helpless to do anything until she saw what her friend was doing and donated two old laptops.
“It’s pretty unreal,” she said. “(When I) grew up, I wasn’t in a well-to-do family. You got what you needed, but sometimes not much more, so it’s nice to know there’s families now that can alleviate some stress by receiving these pieces of technology.”
And though it was unreal, it wasn’t surprising Ryan would do this, she said.
“He’s such a kind human and I just love him and his whole family because they’re (a family) who has worked so hard to get everything that they have … nothing was given to Gerry and his family,” she said. “It’s nice to see someone doing so well and giving other people a hand-up.”
Each computer takes Ryan about two hours to complete. So far, he has received, refurbished and given away 30 computer systems, free of charge. A portion of them went to university students but the bulk of them went to elementary and junior high school students, he says.
“Because of some of the core values that we hold here at the market in terms of environmentalism and reuse and recycling … we thought, golly, we need to make this (into) something even more than what’s happening now,” Pam Anstey, St. John's Farmers Market
And he’s hoping to give away more.
When Pam Anstey, executive director of the St. John’s Farmers Market, was told about Ryan’s initiative, she said they wanted to help.
“Because of some of the core values that we hold here at the market in terms of environmentalism and reuse and recycling … we thought, golly, we need to make this (into) something even more than what’s happening now,” she said.
Beginning Saturday, Aug. 22, they'll be giving a spot to Ryan at the market on Freshwater Road, where he will be accepting donations.
“Then we will continue to be a drop-off point for him to be able to prolong this and enable him to do this as long as possible,” Anstey said.