No one wants to see animals go hungry, especially during the holiday season, but many people are finding it difficult enough to feed their families, let alone their pets. The Meals for Pets program (part of Meals on Wheels) and the Richmond SPCA’s Pet Pantry work to fight pet hunger year-round. However, rising demand is increasing the pressure.
No one wants to see animals go hungry, especially during the holiday season, but many people are finding it difficult enough to feed their families, let alone their pets. Throughout the country pet food banks and drives have been established to help families provide for their companions. Even those who in better times would not have needed assistance are turning to these organizations. Within Richmond, the Meals for Pets program (part of Meals on Wheels) and the Richmond SPCA’s Pet Pantry work to fight pet hunger year-round. However, rising demand is increasing the pressure.
Meals for Pets was founded in 1985 to help Meals on Wheels clients feed their pets after visiting social workers found many of them were sharing food trays with their animals. The organization realized pets were essential for companionship and keeping up morale. In fact, one client (whose name could not be shared due to confidentiality) was becoming frail and lonely. The SPCA partnered with Meals on Wheels to give her a kitten who is fed by the Meals for Pets program. Volunteers reported she was increasingly more cheerful and energetic.
With the recent recession, Meals for Pets is seeing the number of donations shrink despite acquiring more clients.
“Relying on individuals and other small non-profit organizations is not viable in this economy,” says Joe Foster, who is in charge of distribution, soliciting donations, and spreading the word. Before the recession took a toll, there were steady contributions from individuals and larger donations from organizations like the Richmond Animal League and the Terrier Society, two non-profits that are also experiencing financial constraints. Foster is seeking to partner with large corporate sponsors (such as PetSmart and Walmart) for a steady source of donations. He is also looking into partnerships with local pet stores and veterinary clinics.
Before Meals for Pets can even think of offering more services to its clients, it must stabilize current donations…but with impending expansions, this is a difficult task. A new Meals on Wheels location was added in Louisa a few months ago, and the organization is hoping to establish locations in Dinwiddie and Prince George County in February.
Three years ago Meals on Wheels provided 600 to 700 meals a day — now it’s 1,000. This increased the number of animals fed by Meals for Pets to 176. As donations are particularly scarce, the organization has been forced to stop giving pet owners certain types of food specified for breed and size. But Foster says the organization will continue to cope. “Our goal is to fight elder and disabled hunger, and you can’t really do that when they’re giving their food to their animals.” He adds, “There will be no turning away, just strict rationing.” Things would have been dire had it not been for a large donation from the Richmond Animal League earlier this month.
The Richmond SPCA’s Pet Pantry program was started to provide temporary relief to those in need of assistance to feed their animals, especially during the recession. Their goal is to keep pets in good homes, even if that requires a little extra help. The pantry generally serves the unemployed and the disabled and places a $30,000 income cap on participants.
“So far we have found that everybody who has sought help has eventually found a way to get back on their own feet,” says Robin Starr, Chief Executive Officer of the Richmond SPCA.
The Pet Pantry solicits contributions from food drives run by local businesses and organizations, church groups, individuals, and other sources. When the pantry was started a few years ago about 30 people were assisted; that number has recently grown to about 90. So far donations have kept up with demands, and Starr expects both numbers to level out. Similar to Meals for Pets, the Pet Pantry is seeking corporate sponsorship. Currently PETCO has donation bins benefiting the organization in its local stores.
The SPCA also established the Wellness Clinic along with the Pet Pantry as part of its no-kill initiative launched in 2002. The clinic provides basic veterinary care such as examinations, vaccinations, and flea and heart worm medication at little cost to the pet owner — just enough to cover expenses. At first, the clinic was opened once a month, then once a week. Now, due to increasing need, it operates twice a week. The income cap is $70,000 which is higher than the Pet Pantry’s, but there is some overlap of families needing both services.
Both the SPCA and Meals for Pets are constantly soliciting donations and need is always increasing. If you are an individual donor or represent a local business interested in supporting these efforts, you can contact Joe Foster for Meals for Pets at 804-673-5069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The SPCA’s Pet Pantry can be reached at 804-521-1323.