'Meal Train' gets dinner on the table
by MARY PICKELS
Learning she had primary liver cancer on Valentine's Day this year was distressing for Jen Steiner, 37, of Youngwood, and her family.
She took time off from work with Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital's environmental services department, and began chemotherapy.
Although her treatment continues, she recently was able to return to work on a part-time basis, and is feeling much better than she did following her February diagnosis.
Aiding in her recovery was the support of family, friends and colleagues. One co-worker helped make sure Steiner and her family enjoyed delicious and nutritious meals, even on those days when she lacked the energy or appetite for dinner preparation.
"A colleague of mine knew about Meal Train. She asked if it would be OK to start one for me," Steiner says.
Since its founding in 2010, more than 730,000 families have been on the receiving end of a meal train, and more than 7,500 families around the world get a meal each day, according to Vermont-based Meal Train's co-founder Michael Laramee.
The goal is to help feed individuals and families during significant life events, from the arrival of a baby to extended illness, recuperation from injury/surgery to military deployment, and in times of condolence.
Steiner, a member of the Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department since the age of 14 — she comes from a family of firefighters — found friends and family rallying around her and boyfriend Buzz Derco and their son Braden Derco, 8.
A spaghetti dinner at the department's social hall helped raise money for the family's medical bills.
Meal Train, she says, laughing, kept them from "eating hot dogs every night of the week."
A bit nauseous in the beginning following chemotherapy, she also was often too exhausted to prepare daily meals, something she typically did.
With Meal Train, Steiner says, recipients can request a certain number of deliveries per week and note food preferences and any dietary restrictions or allergies.
Donors can sign up via an online calendar.
"Whoever wants to sign up can go to the site, pick a day and (write) what they are bringing," she says.
The family left a cooler on the front porch for donors to drop off meals if they were not home, or she was not feeling well enough to answer the door.
Enough people signed on that only a few deliveries were from repeat donors.
"We had three meals a week, and requested certain days. All my friends know my son is a picky eater," Steiner says.
People often prepared one meal for her and Derco and another with some of Braden's favorite foods like pizza, chicken or gnocchi.
"He was loving it, because most people would get him Chik-fil-A or McDonald's (food)," she says.
She and Derco enjoyed meals like meatloaf or lasagna.
"Most people brought pretty much a full meal and a dessert," Steiner says.
The family's Meal Train continued through the end of June.
"I actually asked for it to be discontinued because I was feeling better. ... I'm starting to resume everything I'd done before," Steiner says.
"I think the amount of support that you have goes a long way in helping you keep positive," she says.
"I think (Meal Train) is a great thing. ... It doesn't even have to be a home-cooked meal. People would ask, 'What do you want from Olive Garden?' or offer a gift card," Steiner says.
Monroeville police officer Pierre DeFelice, 33, is recovering from a spring kidney transplant and expects to return to work in September.
Diagnosed with diabetes at age 13, he was placed on the transplant list in 2016.
"I worked the day I transplanted — March 20, 2017," DeFelice says.
His sister-in-law, Brooke McClintock of Colorado Springs, Colo., set up a Meal Train for the family, including Jill DeFelice, 33, and the couple's sons, Pierre, 7, and Cohen, 4.
Meal deliveries started soon after his surgery and continued through April.
"It was a great help for Jill," DeFelice says.
The family requested meals the three days a week Jill DeFelice works as a nurse practitioner at SCI-Somerset.
"I think Brooke kind of gave a 'favorite meals' (list) and suggested sending gift cards," DeFelice says.
While he was recuperating, his wife assumed a lot of the transport of their children for activities, cared for her husband and ran the household.
"It was good she had some help. It definitely made things easier for our family," DeFelice says.
And the family enjoyed meals including chicken noodle soup, tacos and pasta.
"The experience was truly humbling," Jill DeFelice says.
The couple do volunteer work together, and it was surprising to be on the receiving end of help, she says.
"I was kind of the crazy lady running around with the kids and back and forth to the hospital. (Meal Train) was so organized, and to be able to have that for my kids, providing them a healthy meal, was probably the most helpful for us. It was one less stressor at the end of the day," Jill DeFelice says.
Members of local fire departments and nurses she'd worked with years earlier signed up to bring a meal, she says.
"Sometimes it was friends of our parents or siblings or friends of friends. It was really remarkable. It was a really cool thing. We were not a family that needed financial support, more emotional support and help with the kids. This was probably one of the most helpful things that existed for us," she says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or email@example.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.