More than a meal: Meals on Wheels delivers kindness

Steve Harmic

Sep 9, 2022

The members of the team are highly motivated, knowing that they make a positive contribution to their communities.

CURWENSVILLE, Pa. – At the Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging’s Curwensville Office, kitchen staff led by Chef Michael Finch are hard at work while most people are still sleeping. They have a tall order to fill for the agency’s Meals on Wheels and More program. Each morning the crew of six cranks out over 750 hot meals in complete, sealed packaging, that are delivered to consumers all over Clearfield County. The ovens are switched on by 3:00 a.m.


By 9:00 a.m., the meals are being loaded into a fleet of specially equipped vans that have been outfitted with warming ovens in the cargo area. The vehicles’ own cooling systems circulate hot water from the engines’ radiators, through an internal plumbing system in the ovens, keeping meals warm while in route to their destination. A total of 12 drivers typically cover more than 900 miles per day. On the Friday before Labor Day, consumers received an additional frozen meal that they could prepare on the holiday. That day, drivers delivered 1,401 total meals.


“People may not realize what we turn out with such a small crew,” Finch said. “There’s quite a bit that goes on behind the scenes.”


Finch revealed that he builds menus for the program by the month, and orders fresh ingredients weekly, providing quality, nutritional meals for consumers. He said, “As long as we get positive feedback and people enjoy the meals, I’m happy. I’m also happy to have the staff I have – they get the job done and they do it well.”


The entire operation runs smoothly thanks to that dedicated staff, as well as others involved in all parts of meal prep, scheduling, and delivery. The members of the team are highly motivated, knowing that they make a positive contribution to their communities.


Fleet Dispatcher Joshua Bush, who oversees vehicle maintenance, scheduling, and loading and distribution of the meals said, “The drivers are a great group of folks who make this endeavor possible. The drivers each care for their consumers as if they are part of their family. Throughout their day they are someone who can lend a listening ear, and some days they may be a shoulder to cry on. Other days, they may be that smile that encourages a smile. The drivers are what makes the "more" part of being a Meals on Wheels and More driver.”


Driver Bob Rubly confirmed Bush’s sentiments, saying, “I get to travel and have a great impact on people who we serve. Meeting the people is so rewarding. I love it.”


Now in his sixth year as a Meals on Wheels driver, Rubly retired from Clearfield Machine after 40 years. He estimates that he puts on 500 miles a week delivering meals. He said, “I really do this because I love it. I’m lucky that I have a good pension. I do this for the people. And because I don’t like to sit still. Being on the road and interacting with the consumers is great.”


At a house in Sanborn, PA, the positive interactions Rubly speaks of are apparent. The clients he has met over the years have become friends.


“Hey, Jim,” Rubly calls through the screen door. He is met with an enthusiastic, “Hey, Bob. How are you today?” from 83-year old James Davis, who answers the door with a smile.


Davis shared the impact Meals on Wheels and More has had on him, saying, “I had a wonderful wife. I met her in sixth grade and we went on to be married. We would have been married 49 years, but I lost her 14 years ago to breast cancer. When I had her with me, I didn’t think there would ever be a time when I would have to cook, so I’m so thankful for getting these.”


However, Davis’ appreciation extends far past his dinner table. “These guys coming gives me a chance to talk with them, and visit,” Davis said. “They check on me, see if I need anything. And they care.”


In addition to hot meals, each year Blizzard Boxes are packed and delivered to homebound Meals on Wheels recipients across the county. Typically, 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. On these days, consumers are called and reminded to use some of the food from their Blizzard Box. Boxes are replenished as they are used, depending on available supply.


Kathleen Gillespie, CEO of CCAAA, said, “We are inspired by the very people we serve. We continue to expand our services because there is so much need, but also so much appreciation in the faces of our consumers. That appreciation speaks volumes about how vital these services are to the them. But, there’s still more we can do to assure everyone in need of these lifelines can benefit from being well-nourished through a program like Meals on Wheels and More. We hope other individuals and community partners will continue to be as inspired as we are, and help to support these services.”


While small variations of the concept may have existed in various areas of the country for years, the formal Blizzard Box and Meals on Wheels program actually began in Clearfield County in 1983 with the Clearfield Rotary Club, the owners of Clearfield and DuBois Dairy Queens, and the CCAAA. The program is entirely funded by local donations.


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 www.ccaaa.net