Great Falls Tribune, Larry Beckner, Associated Press
In this Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 photo, Jerry Leitheiser, a longtime scrap salvager, picks up cars and farm equipment then works with Pacific Steel and Recycling to donate money from the scrap to Meals on Wheels in Great Falls, Mont.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Scrap metal and Meals on Wheels are two things that, up until recently, only shared a similar street address in Great Falls.

Enter Jerry Leitheiser, a retired General Mills employee with a scrap metal recycling business and a soft spot for helping those in need. He has raised more than $5,000 for the nonprofit program by donating cash he earns from recycling.

Leitheiser said he knows several people who participate in Meals on Wheels, which allows home-bound senior citizens to still maintain some of their independence and health.

"They look forward to it," he said. "They're at home where they're happy."

For six years, he's operated a side business of recycling scrap metal. He has the equipment to go pick up people's old vehicles and farm equipment and then recycle them for profit. He then donates the money to Meals on Wheels.

Since he started, Leitheiser said he has received a number of phone calls. One woman wanted to donate a 1999 Isuzu Trooper. After inspecting it, Leitheiser determined it was in decent condition, and he took it to Eli's Auction Service, which sold the car and then donated its portion of the profit to Meals on Wheels as well.

For years, Leitheiser has taken his scrap metal to Pacific Steel and Recycling, which is coincidentally next door to the Meals on Wheels kitchen, and he even got Pacific Steel and Recycling to help contribute to the efforts.

Now with the city's recycling center closed, Leitheiser said people can bring their aluminum cans, newspapers and other recyclable material to Pacific Steel, and an account has been set up so people can donate any of their recycling profits directly to Meals on Wheels.

"It was completely a new endeavor for Meals on Wheels," Director Nancy Wilson said. "We didn't know what to expect."

Wilson said right now, Meals on Wheels funding streams have only provided enough to pay for 300 meals each day, and it's running close to 350 deliveries every day. Wilson said they were in danger of having to turn people away were it not for Leitheiser's idea.

Randy Annis, an assistant manager in the recycling center, said right now Pacific Steel and Recycling is paying 40 cents per pound on aluminum. If people designate their contributions o Meals on Wheels, Annis said Pacific Steel and Recycling will contribute an additional 5 cents per pound.

It can add up to a lot of money.

"If enough people do it, it's going to feed a lot of people," Wilson said.

The effort is being run through the Meals on Wheels office to ensure that it remains a nonprofit endeavor.

"I set it up so no one can think I'm trying to make any money," he said.

Wilson said it's a lot of work for Leitheiser, who donates the money to make sure anyone who needs a meal can get one.

Leitheiser's work has opened Wilson's eyes to a whole segment of the population she didn't realize cares about Meals on Wheels.

"I'm so grateful for him," Wilson said.

Information from: Great Falls Tribune,