When families are going through a tough time economically, many turn to food banks to help keep meals on the table. But sometimes furry and/or feathered family members are part of the equation and families can struggle to feed them as well.
Enter Animal Friend’s Chow Wagon program.
“The ongoing goal is to help pet owning families keep their pets even during these hard economic times,” said Ann Cadman, Chow Wagon facilitator. “The last thing we want these families to do is to be forced to give up a member of their family because money is tight and they do not have food to feed them.”
Chow Wagon collects donations of pet food and distributes them to area shelters based on need of the clientele.
“We partner with 22 local food pantries and one Meals on Wheels group,” Cadman said. “We are in the north, south, east and west of Pittsburgh. We are also within the city. We go up to Apollo and we also go down into Beaver County with the Ambridge Food Pantry.”
Since the program started in 2007 there have been more than 837 deliveries totaling more than 172,000 pounds of pet food. In 2013, 145 deliveries totaling 25,644 pounds were made. Donations of treats and new toys are also accepted. During the holiday season participating food pantries receive the “Santa Sack of Toys” to bring pets and their owners just a little bit more joy.
“Folks will always find a way to get pet food, to feed their pets,” Cadman said. “Will they spend money on a brand new toy? The answer is probably no. I always say that pet food is good for the body, but toys are good for the soul.”
The program has been helpful, according to Cadman, who tells the story of how one area food bank client was affected when learning he could get cat food.
“He became ecstatic,” she said. “They said, ‘gee, we didn’t know you had a cat.” And he said, ‘didn’t you wonder when I came in, why I took six to eight cans of tuna?’ They said, ‘I thought you just liked tuna.’ ‘No, I took it to feed my cat.’ He was denying himself six to eight cans of food so that he could feed his pet.”
Chow Wagon provides pet food to between 1,000 and 1,500 pet-owning clients each month and while some non-pet-owning families may not understand, Cadman said pets truly are members of the family.
“Families are made up of many, many different kinds of members,” she said. “They grow to love each other, you grow to need each other. You always think your pet needs you, I think it’s sometimes the other way around. We want to keep the family together.”
Donations to Chow Wagon can be made online or in person to Animal Friends.