How to avoid potential pet food bank pitfalls

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Oct 01, 2009

Caitlin Rivers, Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and client coordinator and senior staff trainer at Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa., gives you a head start on your pet food bank undertaking by sharing three roadblocks she ran into when setting up Pet Pantry of Central Pennsylvania.

Challenge 1: Accessibility
Either pet owners can’t get to the pantry because they lack transportation or they can’t arrive during open food bank hours. “Many of the smaller human food banks that distribute pet food in our area are only open one day a month,” River says. And many of those in need live in other counties without food banks and can’t afford the gas to make the trip. To ensure pet owners could receive food, Rivers set up a revolving distribution, which works out to two of eight food banks getting food each week. Some volunteers also were willing to drive more than two hours one way to deliver pet food. Other solutions with less mileage: Set up a pet pantry at a central location, preferably with extended hours and public transportation access.

Challenge 2: Disproportional donations
People need more dog food pound for pound than cat food, but Rivers says you’ll most likely run out of cat food faster. Her pantry receives more dog food donations from the community than cat food. To compensate—and to increase awareness and overall donations—contact major companies in your area in and in the pet food industry. “One company sent us 20 cases of sample bags, half a pound each, to help us get started,” Rivers says. “And another sponsored one of our food drives, matching the amount we raised. I’m talking with school and scouting groups to continue to raise food and awareness.” Another tip: Ask local grocery stores for dented cans or split bags of pet food they can’t sell.

Challenge 3: Lack of knowledge
Pet owners and some food bank volunteers don’t realize how much food a pet should receive daily. “They don’t understand that a 100-pound dog needs more food than a 10-pound one or that a can of cat food a day isn’t adequate,” River says. “Our first shipment was to a smaller rural food bank that said they served 77 families a month. They only asked for 100 pounds of dog food for those 77 families.” Instead of trying to show owners and volunteers the math—100 pounds wouldn’t even feed one-third of the 77 families—figure the numbers for them. Bag food in premeasured amounts for small, medium, and large dogs and cats.