Partner-service provider steps in to help Diakon staff member affected by fire

Fleetwood, Pennsylvania Tuesday May 19, 2020

A terrible fire that arose in the dark of night has led to an outpouring of concern and support, brightening the light of day for the family of Michelle Koontz, a permanency services supervisor based in Diakon Adoption & Foster Care’s Topton office.

Koontz, her husband, Steve, their 12-year-old son, Connor, and dog Ripley, a Labrador retriever/hound mix they rescued as a puppy, escaped the three-alarm fire that ripped through their home in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. The blaze, which erupted between 10:30 and 11 p.m. April 16, roared through several homes as well as the Fleetwood Seventh-day Adventist Church. The fire began in a neighbor’s adjoining-double house. There were no fatalities.

“It was scary,” says Koontz, who celebrates her 16th anniversary with Diakon this month. “But we were all awake and got out. We’re very grateful it happened when it did because if it had happened later at night, we may not have had the same result. Within five to seven minutes of our being out of the house, it was fully engulfed.”

The family lost the house and both cars, but are very thankful they will be able to rebuild.

Assistance came from multiple sources including Diakon—but also from a partner service provider, Morrison Community Living. 

While on a weekly pandemic-related call involving staff from Diakon and its contract vendors—Morrison provides culinary and housekeeping services for Diakon’s senior living communities—John Rifkin, a vice president of operations with Morrison, heard Mark Pile, Diakon president/CEO, mention the fire.

“I emailed Mark while we were still on the call and said we could definitely provide some meals,” says Rifkin. “You’re usually staying in a hotel after a fire, ordering out, and I thought they’d prefer a home-cooked meal. We’re in hospitality, we serve food, so we got it right out to them. Everyone jumped right into action; it was great to see that support.”

“It was awesome. We really appreciated it!”

Morrison provided three meals per day for the first two days. Kathy Roach, Diakon Adoption & Foster Care executive director, delivered the food to the Koontz family in the hotel in which they were staying. 

“The meals were delicious. I was so impressed they offered,” says Koontz, adding that the meals “included water, milk and everything we needed. It was awesome. We really appreciated it!”

Chef Ted Koehle, director of dining services, and John Pensyl, executive chef at The Lutheran Home at Topton, oversaw the effort. Koehle says he and Pensyl planned the menus and prepared meals that could easily be stored in the hotel, boxed breakfasts, lunch boxes and hot meals for dinner. “When you lose everything, having something so devastating happen, any small thing you can do to give some measure of comfort and hope you want to do,” Koehle says. “We were happy to help.” 

Morrison responded similarly, Rifkin notes, when an associate at Twining Village, a Diakon senior living community in Holland, Bucks County, was affected by a house fire. 

Gathering on the The Lutheran Home at Topton campus are, from left, John Pensyl, Ted Koehle, Michelle Koontz, Connor Koontz, Steve Koontz and Joyce Riche, director of the Topton office of Diakon Adoption & Foster Care.

In addition, Diakon maintains a family fund to help employees who have experienced a major event. Koontz is grateful for the help the family fund can provide and appreciates her Diakon family “wanting to help as we move forward with paying bills.”

“Michelle is an amazing individual. She maintains such a positive outlook despite the loss of everything. I am humbled by her outlook,” says Roach.

“One of my main concerns was that I had my work computer at home because I was working remotely because of the COVID-19 virus,” notes Koontz. But her colleagues chuckled that the loss of her computer was one of her first concerns, emphasizing she should not worry about it given the extent of other losses. “Other places may not have been quite so understanding,” she says. “My welfare and my family’s overall well-being has been their first concern.”

The family was not able to enter the house because of structural damage. However, the fire marshal was able to retrieve Koontz’s purse, her husband’s wallet and their fireproof safe that contained such documents as birth certificates. “It was a godsend to be able to get those things.”

Overall, she says, everyone has “been amazing—the staff, my work colleagues and Diakon as a whole,” Koontz says. “I couldn’t ask for any more support from the organization as well as the personal outreach.” There also has been a community effort to help the family as well as others who lost their homes. The Fleetwood Area Middle School, at which Koehle’s wife works, also started a collection to help those affected.

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