Meals on Wheels

Local arm of the national nonprofit sees new director, new grants but an ever-growing need

TRAVERSE CITY – Helen Endres is one of 1,327 clients Meals on Wheels served last year in the five counties of Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Manistee, Wexford and Missaukee. The 89-year-old been a client for two years.

"Meals on Wheels is a life saver," she says.

Endres isn't talking only about the nutritious, well-balanced meal brought to her door each day but the less tangible yet essential human need the volunteers also provide: a smile, companionship and a sense that someone cares.

"I look forward to seeing them each day," Endres says. "I get lots of hugs."

Meals On Wheels, which provides daily meals for homebound seniors age 60 and older, is a national nonprofit organization that has been in northwest Michigan for more than 30 years.

Last summer, Vi Brott, who headed up the local Meals on Wheels program since its start here, retired. In her place is new director Lisa Robitshek.

Robitshek, who brings to the table a background in health administration, plus experience in nonprofit management, volunteer management and fundraising, oversees the Meals on Wheels program in five counties: Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Manistee, Wexford and Missaukee. The programs cover both meals for homebound individuals and nearly 30 congregate meal sites (centralized luncheon sites where mobile seniors can meet to eat.)

In Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, the program contracts with Goodwill Industries "because they have such a wonderful operation at the Goodwill Inn," says Robitshek. "But in the other counties, like Manistee and Cadillac, there isn't an entity like that so we have our own kitchens."

It works like this: The cooks in the five counties work together to plan the menus. Then, a nutritionist from the Area Agency on Aging approves the menus, making sure they meet all of the USDA regulations, and are well-balanced and tasty. Last year the program served 197,496 meals.

"The premise is that we deliver a hot meal every day, five days a week, around noon, " Robitshek says. "The goal is for the client to open the tray up, stick a fork in it and eat it right away." The only exception to that rule? When Meals on Wheels delivers frozen meals at the client's request for the weekend.

Recently, Meals on Wheels received grants to also provide meals for homebound folks under age 60, but demand still outweighs supply.

"As we do projections for this year, based on how many meals we have been delivering, we have about a $100,000 gap between the funding we are receiving and how much we need to serve our meals," Robitshek says. "In the past, they have had waiting lists, but I can't bring myself to do that. I'm working really hard to look at what we need to make up the difference, so when someone who meets the criteria calls, we can serve them. Last week alone, 10 new clients called.

"Meals on Wheels is a heart-warming place to work," Robitshek says. "I've never had so many hugs. When new clients call, it feels good to say, 'Yes, we will bring you a meal tomorrow.'"

Want to donate, volunteer or sign up for meals? Contact Robitshek at 231-947-3780. BN