HARBERT — Participants in the Sept. 28 “The Art of Living Well,” an annual fundraiser for Meals on Wheels of Southwest Michigan, practiced what they preach and combined for an event that was even more successful than last year, according to Executive Director Linda Strohl.

Held this year at the appropriate surroundings of the Judith Racht Gallery in Harbert, artists of all kinds were celebrated. The fine arts were represented in the many pieces of original art donated for a gallery-wide silent auction. While bids were being placed, culinary artists passed trays of edible creations and the donating vinters, distillers and winemakers kept the glasses full.

“We are here tonight to celebrate. To celebrate us, the bounty of this area, the talented people who make this their home and to celebrate seniors because if we are lucky enough we will all be one someday,” Strohl said.

The local program has grown by 40 percent in three years and relies on its 70 volunteers who last year served more than 66,000 meal to more than 1,100 seniors. Donations and funds raised at events similar to The Art of Living Well art auction count for 45 percent of the cost of every meal that is served.

“Rather than limit the artists to submitting only decorated trays, this year we left it up to the artists and asked them to speak to us about what food and drink means to them,” said Tom Flint, who coordinated the auction.

Michael Smykal decorated several serving pieces with his whimsical figures depicting garden items such as mushrooms, celery, carrots and onions. Roger Harvey repurposed common kitchen items and turned a knife block into a hunk of cheese and a wooden bowl, tray and candleholder into a serving piece that looked like a cake waiting to be cut.

Steve LaGatutta did a take-off on McDonald’s signs that boast how many hamburgers sold with a resurfaced McDonalds tray holding a miniature “welcoming” table with walking feet set for a banquet. Martha Cares decorated a rolling pin and plate with her familiar “My Rescue” animal images.

Donna Dodderidge used a sunflower to bring a smile to the plate she decorated. Angela Reinhart dressed a table with block-printed cloth napkins, a beaded runner and decorated candlesticks. Margie Demorrow kept the tray concept alive using pieces of broken glass fashioned into two koi fish.

In the midst of the art on display were three stacks of trays to encourage donations to the “senior meal trifecta of: a meal, a visit and a safety check” in the amount equal to one month of meals for $110, six months for $660 or 12 months for $1,320. Collecting the donations was Candice Berndt who said she is attracted to the program because she realizes that not everyone is a gifted as she is with a large family.

Volunteer drivers Sally and Nick Bogert were on hand to give their version of the trifecta, who said they enjoy the personal interaction with their clients and getting to know them. They said some of the clients will just meet them at the door, take the meal and say thank you while others invite them in and have their favorite candy in a dish for them.  

“You can see them cheer up and can tell that it makes their day,” Sally Bogert said, while Nick said he enjoyed hearing stories that you wouldn’t otherwise here, such as their 80-years-plus client who was recently wheeled down to the lakefront to be baptized.

The Southwest Michigan chapter of Meals on Wheels offers group meals that are served at senior centers in their region as well as home delivered meals in Berrien and Van Buren counties. Additionally, the local group is looking at new programs aimed at the Baby Boomer generation, such as the Senior Meal Club and programs with area farmers to provide farm-to-table fresh produce.

The Senior Meal Club was launched in March with the Full Circle Café & Espresso Bar in Stevensville and has grown from nine members to more than a 100 participants. Members can order from a special menu and pay only a $2 donation plus server tip. For more information or to enroll, contact Renee Reid-Smith at (269) 876-7643.

Artists who donated works for this year’s auction were: Valerie Falatic Hill, Bob Gildo, Elizabeth Coyne, Keek Bielby, Susan Henshaw, Thomas Alan Pauly, Nick LaFlex, Margie Demorrow, David Smykal, Brian Cooley, Martha Cares, Elizabeth Nuti, Steve LaGattuta, Dave Knoebber, Floyd Gompf, Johanna Humbert, Roger Harvey, Linda Hofheim, Rick Ott, Angela Reichert, Joe Hindley, Matt Swenson, Donna Dodderidge and Kim Pruitt.

Food creations were donated by Bistro on the Boulevard, Flagship True North Fish Market, Full Circle Care & Espresso Bar, Granor Farm, Houndstooth Restaurant, Luisa’s Café, Oaks Eatery, Peasant’s Pantry, Reny Picot Cheese and Savors & Secrets. Beverages were donated by Journeyman Distillery, P & E’s Bottle Shop, Lambrecht’s Liquor Store, North Pier Brewing and Tapistry Brewing.

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