Nov 8, 2022
Meals on Wheels and More Driver Joe Lenhart, with his van loaded, ready to see what another day brings as he embarks on his delivery route.
CURWENSVILLE, Pa. – Joe Lenhart became the newest Meals on Wheels and More driver for the Mature Resources Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging in October, and he wasted no time finding opportunities to go above and beyond his duties. One day, while still learning his route and training with a veteran driver, Bob, the pair pulled into one of their delivery stops and immediately noticed there was a fire burning in the home near Mahaffey.
“We got there, Bob went to the door, and there was smoke coming out around the door,” Lenhart recalled. “We touched the knob to make sure it wasn’t hot, then opened the door. Instantly, black smoke just started pouring out.”
Luckily, Lenhart is a volunteer firefighter with Curwensville’s Station 8 Rescue Hose and Ladder. His training automatically kicked in.
“I made entry, it was so dark with black smoke I couldn’t even see that the kitchen light was on until I was halfway back to the kitchen,” Lenhart said. “I discovered a stack of firewood in a rack that was on fire right next to the wood stove, and it had spread to the rug on the floor. I can only guess the stove must have thrown a spark and started it. Just when we got in there it went up. The flames were fueled by air coming through the open door, and it just took off.”
Opening the door was a necessity to get access to the house and to begin letting smoke out, but now Lenhart knew he had to act fast. He said, “I grabbed the entire rack of firewood and ran outside with it. Then I got two big bottles of water out of the van and ran back in and put the fire out on the rug. I didn’t know if it was enough water to fully extinguish the fire on the rug, so I rolled the rug up and took it outside. While I was doing this, Bob called 911 and got the fire department on the way.”
The pair then went back into the house to check to see if the residents were inside. Fortunately, they had left to go and get their flu shots, and the house was unoccupied.
“If they had been in there, say sleeping or something, they’d be dead of smoke inhalation,” Lenhart explained.
A resident of the home, referred to here simply as “Ernest” expressed his gratitude to the drivers who saved his home. He said, “I really hand it to these guys for helping me that day the way they did. It’s a blessing to have them, and a blessing that they do all the things they do and don’t even want anything in return. Thankfully, we’re ok.”
Meals on Wheels Fleet Dispatcher Joshua Bush commended Lenhart, saying, “Each driver has been in a situation where they have needed to call 911 for medical assistance, but in my time here, I don't remember a driver ever needing to call 911 for a fire at a consumer's residence. Fortunately, that day Joe, who is a firefighter for Curwensville, just happened to be on the right route on the right day. Joe was able to quickly search the home to see if anyone was inside and while doing so was able to extinguish the fire, saving the consumer's home and belongings. Each one of our drivers has stories about how they were able to help someone while delivering their meals, and as their fleet dispatcher, it makes me proud of each one of them. They are a great team of men and women who love to help others.”
Lenhart has already experienced other emergency situations during his short time delivering meals. As Bush indicated, it can happen frequently. Aside from the fire, Lenhart has discovered two different consumers who fell in their homes as he made deliveries. Following protocol, he called emergency medical personnel and waited with the consumers until help arrived. One man had broken a hip and had been laying on the floor for two days over the weekend. Lenhart remembered the man told him, ‘I’ve been waiting for you to come.’
Bush further explained, “Our Meals on Wheels and More drivers are doing more than just delivering meals, they are also the agency's eyes and ears. They get to see and interact with our consumers on a daily basis, and they also check up with our consumers to make sure they are doing well. The drivers have been able to summon help on numerous occasions where they have found a consumer not feeling well, or a consumer has fallen and is in need of medical assistance. As a driver you just never know what may happen as you are delivering these meals.
“Being a Meals on Wheels and More driver is rarely ever the same from day to day. Having that ‘more’ part in their job description kind of leaves it open for just about anything. It could mean that you might be delivering company mail between different facilities, or maybe transporting a company vehicle from one place to another. You just never know what is going to come up. So, as a driver you have to be prepared for pretty much anything and everything.”
Lenhart added, “Any time you can help people in any way, it feels gratifying. You have to give back to your community. And all of our drivers feel that way. All of them care about the people we deliver too. They get to know them. It’s something great to be a part of.”
The Meals on Wheels program typically provides 700-800 hot, nutritious meals each day to consumers in Clearfield County. The AAA contracts with Morrison Living, an international food service provider, to supply the meals that are prepared fresh in the kitchen at the agency’s Curwensville office each day. In addition to hot meals, each year Blizzard Boxes are packed and delivered to homebound Meals on Wheels recipients across the county. A combination of nonperishable foods, they are packaged and delivered at the onset of winter. Consumers are encouraged to store the meals in a safe place to use as a backup for stormy winter days when the Meals on Wheels staff may be unable to deliver a hot meal.
For more information, or to find out how you can support the Meals on Wheels and Blizzard Box programs, call 814-765-2696, or visit https://www.mraaa.life/