Meals on Wheels Goes ‘Mobile’

Mobile Maintenance mechanics Rich Goodman, Phil Grainger and John Kiger prepare to deliver meals to senior citizens. Already assigned to small groups for their jobs, the team members are able to work together without masks, and the meal delivery to seniors was contactless.

September 24, 2020

It was an email that led to special delivery.

“I was contacted by a representative of Area Agency on Aging,” said Andrea Bortoluzzi, a Community Involvement consultant based at the Greensburg Corporate Center. “She told me they were in dire need of volunteers to deliver meals to shut-in senior citizens in three southwest Pennsylvania counties, including Fayette County.”

So, Andrea sent out an email soliciting help.

Mobile Maintenance Crew Lead Joe Hanna was quick to respond.

“With everything that’s going on right now, I knew they needed the help,” said Joe. “FirstEnergy is gracious enough to give us the time to volunteer. I figured why not.”

While Mobile Maintenance teams spend much of their time travelling to various job assignments across the FirstEnergy footprint, the group is headquartered in Connellsville, Pa., in the heart the area where Andrea had noted need was greatest.

“Much of the year our Mobile Maintenance folks are working various projects in generation plants or related to grid modification,” explains Mobile Maintenance Manager Dave Brahosky. “But we’ve also had team members working to upgrade our Connellsville facility. Between projects, crews come to Connellsville to retool and prepare for new assignments. We can certainly spare a few hours to help those in need. This is exactly the sort of thing Volunteer Time-Off was created for.”

Joe added: “I talked to the guys, and everybody was all for it. They thought it was a great idea. I called and offered to volunteer.”

The Mobile Maintenance volunteers were a “godsend,” according to Paula Pritts, director of the Connellsville Area Senior Center. Her organization is responsible for delivering nearly 300 meals a day over a 260-square mile area. “Many of our regular volunteers are older, and when the pandemic hit, they stopped delivering because of the health risks. But meal delivery can’t quit. Our seniors depend on those meals,” Paula said.

Crews under Joe and Denny Hays, crew lead, volunteered.

“Delivering the meals takes three people,” said Joe. “One drives, another acts as navigator to direct us between stops, and a third delivers the meal.”

Mobile employees took turns delivering. The workers start their day at 6 a.m. At 8:45, the three employees delivering for the day would take Volunteer Time-Off, go to the senior center and pick up prepared meals and a delivery list. “Paula and her people are incredibly well-organized. The delivery list was broken down into quadrants, and in some cases the recipients’ homes were so close to one another we could park the truck and walk to a few homes,” Joe said. “It only took a couple of hours each day.”

Deliveries were made without coming in contact with recipients. The meal was placed at the door and the deliverer knocked or rang the doorbell. Part of the job was to watch to make sure the recipient picked up the meal. “If they didn’t, we’d call. And if there was no answer then, we’d take note and report it on our return to the senior center.” Joe explained. “Paula and a case worker would follow up to make sure the resident was OK.”

Paula noted: “This has been a really hard time on the aging. So many of our older people are now isolated. For some of our seniors, a volunteer’s face might be the only one they see in a day. Just exchanging a few words from a distance can make all the difference in the world.”

Rich Goodman delivered meals with fellow Mobile Maintenance mechanics Phil Granger and John Kiger in late August. “It’s a good cause, and the people were really grateful,” Rich said. “I enjoyed the little chats when they came to the door. The whole experience was very fulfilling.”

Mobile crews have begun reporting to assignments to support fall maintenance outages. Joe is now working at the Yards Creek Generating Station in New Jersey. But the commitment to assist those in need hasn’t stopped. “We used my truck for the deliveries,” Joe said, “because it has a four-door cab, and that’s what you need to hold so many meals.” When he left for Yards Creek, management found another truck so those in Connellsville could continue volunteering when available.

“I’ve always believed that if you do good things, good things will happen,” said Joe. “I’m tremendously proud of our guys for volunteering. I think we all got at least as much out of the experience as the seniors did.”