John Jennings was preparing for a different kind of storm.
Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, was scheduled to arrive in State College Friday afternoon. Following him were the Ohio State Buckeyes, set to take the field against Penn State in front of a national TV audience a day later.
Jennings, a co-owner of Pizza Mia, was gearing up for another busy weekend. But after flooding swept through Milesburg and Howard early Friday morning, he fired up his ovens to help.
“Pizza is comfort food,” he said. “I think it’s just the right thing to do.”
More than 100 residents were rescued or evacuated. The American Red Cross had set up an emergency shelter at Bald Eagle Area High School, where about 80 displaced individuals took safety from their waterlogged homes. The town was awash in muddy water. Points along Bald Eagle Creek had spilled over 12 feet.
Parts of the Bald Eagle area received more than 7 inches of rain. Dave Samuhel, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, said the last time the area had been hit as hard was Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
“It’s been quite some time,” he said. “That was a more widespread rain across the entire county, not just localized like this event was.”
Jennings drove through Milesburg Friday morning, navigating the roads that were still above water. Earlier he had contacted the Red Cross asking what he could do. In a few hours, the Salvation Army was helping deliver an impromptu school lunch.
Working with several organizations, crews and volunteers donated time or — in Jennings’ case, pizza — to help those affected by the flooding.
“We have tons of local businesses that have stepped up to the plate,” said Stephanie Fost, the Red Cross chapter executive director for mid-central Pennsylvania. “Honestly, the phone has been ringing off the hook.”
Pizza Hut, Sheetz and Coca-Cola were just a few of the businesses that assisted with relief efforts, Fost added.
Lori Jamison, the administrator at Centre Crest, said the nursing and rehabilitation facility provided shelter to about 10 individuals from Eagle Valley Personal Care Home. The residents had been originally moved to the high school early Friday morning.
“Just being awake since 1 a.m. and moving from place to place, it has been a very long night (for them),” she said. “They arrived and as we were able to get them situated and settled, they were able to take a pretty good nap.”
Again, pizza was the recourse. The Bellefonte Pizza Hut helped with picking up the tab.
“We were very appreciative of that,” Jamison said.
Jennings planned on going back later Friday evening — or just in time for dinner. He and his wife, Melissa, who have owned Pizza Mia for about 15 years, hoped to bring another round of pizzas to both volunteers and those affected.
“What was really cool just looking around, our first responders are amazing, our road crews are amazing,” he said. “It’s amazing when you see people with Trump stickers or signs in their yards and people with Clinton stickers or signs in their yards helping each other bail out their basement. It gives you faith that no matter what happens, this country is this country and these people are these people and we’re going to help each other.
“I think as business owners, we have a responsibility to the community.”