BY MICHELLE MERLIN
— TRAVERSE CITY — Gil Glick knocked on the door wearing a too-small Santa hat on his head.
Irene Kolkema, 93, answered, a smile appearing on her face at the sight of Glick from Meals on Wheels of Northwest Michigan.
“It’s something for me to get out of bed for,” Kolkema said.
Such interactions are nearly a daily occurrence for Kolkema, who gets visits — and meals — from Meals on Wheels. The program delivers warm meals to homebound senior citizens but is facing as much as $50,000 in cutbacks this year due to drops in state and federal funding. The total amount accounts for 3 percent of the organization’s budget.
“It’s critical to being able to provide what we do,” said Lisa Robitshek, the Northwest Michigan branch’s director.
Robitshek said the funding cuts could translate into a waiting list for people looking to enroll in the program.
The Northwest Michigan branch includes Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Wexford, Manistee and Missaukee counties. The program delivered regular meals to 1,100 clients last year. They also provided community luncheons to another 1,500 people who can’t leave their homes.
The program provides senior citizens with a combination of nutrition and regular visitation, and often clients form strong bonds with their delivery person.
Case in point is Kolkema’s relationship with her delivery people.
“Gil is almost like part of the family,” Kolkema said, interrupting her banter with Glick, 70.
The people who deliver Kolkema’s food keep her updated about their own families. She even started a correspondence with one’s 91-year-old mother.
Delivery volunteers also provide a needed safety check on clients, who are sometimes found on the floor or need help getting up. Some occasionally require medical attention.
Volunteers benefit from the relationship, Glick said. He enjoys visiting with his clients and often runs late on his route because he spends so much time talking to them.
They remind him of his mother, who died in her 90s, and in some ways fill the role of his father, who died when Glick was only 18.
“These people step into that role and just give me an inspiration of what I want to be like when I’m that old,” Glick said.
While Kolkema is lucky to live with her daughter, many Meals on Wheels clients don’t have such a luxury. They suffer from mobility and vision impairment and have family members who are far-flung around the country, Robitshek said.
“Seniors want to stay in their home, and sometimes it doesn’t take a lot to be able to keep them in their home other than a nutritious meal or someone being able to check on them,” Robitshek said.
Robitshek said members of the nonprofit will try to raise funds to make up for the projected loss, but that would double their annual fundraising goal.
“If at some point we don’t make this up, not just this year but in (the) future, (and) if cuts continue to happen, we may have to make bigger cuts,” said Robitshek, adding “we just can’t let that happen.”