Every Wednesday morning, in a cozy downtown office in Mohawk, NY, volunteers hand out small bags of dry dog food for the patrons of , a nonprofit pantry that provides struggling community members with free pet food. Kristine Wilson, 56, and Julie Rotondo, 64, started this unique charity a few years ago, after working together at a local animal shelter.
"People who loved their pets were being forced to give them up for adoption because they couldn't afford to feed them," Kristine says.
The duo decided that the best way to keep pets in their rightful homes and out of shelters was to offer free pet food. In March 2013, they began assembling volunteers, planning fundraisers and accepting applications for aid.
To qualify for assistance at the pantry, community members must provide proof of pet ownership, like a license or shot record, the animal's size and breed, plus disclose their family's size and income. Once approved, pet owners receive a membership card that shows how much food they can receive per month. The pantry's 26 volunteers work in shifts to prepare food, treats, collars and even sweaters to give out to visiting members.
"We supplement what they can afford to give their pets," Kristine explains. "We created a salary cap for applicants. Still, it's hard to turn anyone away."
Local pet stores often donate supplies from their leftover inventory. The pantry also holds garage sales and dinners to raise the additional money it needs to feed the pets of nearly 300 families that come to the pantry each year.
Dog's best friend
When Brandon Crews, 40, a disabled veteran, left his job in construction after experiencing multiple seizures, he was worried about how he would keep feeding his 161-pound German rottweiler, Saleen.
Brandon was relying on food stamps and a small cash stipend from the Department of Social Services when he heard about 4PetSake from volunteers at the VA. His landlord gave him a ride to the pantry. "The first time I went there they sent me home with dog treats, canned food and a big bag of dry food before I even had the membership paperwork filled out," Brandon says.
When Brandon became a member, 4PetSake volunteers also helped him get Saleen spayed for free. (The pantry partners with local veterinarians to offer some services at a reduced price.) "I'm comfortable now that Saleen is being taken care of. The pantry came into my life at exactly the right time," Brandon says.
Running 4PetSake has been rewarding for Kristine and Julie, too. "People come in not knowing what will happen to their pets if they don't get help," says Kristine. "We're all animal lovers and when they need us, we are here."