Ryan Sirois, right, with the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen, distributes free food earlier this month at Head of Falls in downtown Waterville as part of an event featuring about 60 community service organizations that provide food, shelter and other services to those in need. Sirois is a homeless veteran who is described by administrators of the soup kitchen as an invaluable volunteer. But he suffered a setback recently when he sustained serious injuries in a fall from his bicycle. Morning Sentinel file

Ryan Sirois lay in the critical care unit of a Portland hospital this week, unable to move after cracking four vertebrae and breaking his sternum in a bicycle accident.

The 39-year-old, homeless man is not just anyone. He is an invaluable volunteer at the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen where Carla Caron, president of the board of directors, says he is much beloved.

“I can’t tell you what an impact this is having,” Caron said Monday at the kitchen. “He truly is my right-hand man. He does dishes, he preps food, he hauls boxes of products and supplies up and down the stairs, he washes and sweeps the floors. Truly, I don’t know what I’m going to do without him because I don’t have another person who can do that. He and I are usually the last to leave here.”

Sirois left the soup kitchen on his bike late in the afternoon of Sept. 15, about a week ago, heading to his tent off Water Street in the city’s South End. He came upon a person walking and when he tried to bike around him, the bicycle veered off into the grass and struck a large hole, catapulting Sirois forward over the handlebars.

“The front of my head hit the ground — it happened so fast,” he said by phone from his hospital bed.

Sirois was taken by Delta Ambulance to Thayer Center for Health in Waterville and then transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where doctors gave him the news: three cervical and one thoracic vertebrae were cracked and his sternum, or breast bone, was broken.

Advertisement

Ryan Sirois, a homeless veteran who volunteers at the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen, helps unload donated food in June. Sirois, described by administrators of the soup kitchen as an invaluable volunteer, suffered a setback recently when he sustained serious injuries in a fall from his bicycle. Morning Sentinel file

“They’re going to put me in a waist-to-shoulder brace,” he said. “They said healing is a guarantee.”

They say things happen for a reason, and Sirois and Caron hope he will come out of this predicament stronger than before. Sirois said his main goal is to return to working at the soup kitchen and hopes he can find a place to live.

“I want to go back to what I was doing before, but without the tent,” he said.

Sirois’ life has been a struggle. He grew up in Skowhegan, graduated from Skowhegan Area High School, and entered the U.S. Army where he served as an infantryman. He has been homeless for much of that time since then.

He recalled the first time he went to the soup kitchen on College Avenue. It was last fall and he was in trouble. Caron helped him.

“My blood sugar was low,” he said. “… I started coming there everyday and eventually I started mopping floors. I signed up for two days a week and there was nobody else to do it, so that’s when I started doing five days a week.”

Advertisement

Ryan Sirois wades through floodwater from the Kennebec River in Waterville last October as he pulls a tent containing his possessions to higher ground. Sirois, who is a military veteran, was living at the time at a homeless encampment near the Hathaway Creative Center in the city’s South End. Sirois volunteers full-time at the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen, where administrators say he is critical to its operation, but he suffered a setback recently when he sustained serious injuries in a fall from his bicycle. Morning Sentinel file

Living in a tent isn’t easy and Sirois has had to move it several times for various reasons, including flooding along the Kennebec River and people stealing his belongings.

“I lost a cellphone, tablet, toenail clippers,” he said.

At the soup kitchen Monday, Austin Segel, a volunteer cook, said Sirois is an important part of the operation, especially since a lot of volunteers are retired and Sirois is young and strong and can do the heavy lifting they can’t do.

Caron said Sirois, who has volunteered there since January, is loyal, dependable, always on time and a hard, hard worker.

“He’s going to come out of this better than before,” she said. “I keep telling him, ‘You have a group of people who really care about you and want to help you and see you through this thing. You’re not alone.’ ”

By Thursday afternoon, Sirois was in the brace and able to get up and walk a little in the hospital, but was “just really sore.”

“The brace is basically my cast,” he said. “I’ll be in it for six to eight weeks — that’s all based on how fast the bones heal. They said I can go home, maybe next week, as long as I have a place to live.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here weekly. She is the author of the book “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published this year by Islandport Press. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.