A Food Bank For Fido

A Food Bank For Fido

For years, Trinity Episcopal Church in Bethlehem has opened its doors for a soup kitchen, serving 150 people in need of a nutritious meal at lunchtime on weekdays.

Back in 2005, Vanessa Segaline, then 14 and a parishioner who was volunteering with the soup kitchen, began noticing people taking food with them. Her inquisitiveness led to some surprising answers and inspired a fresh idea to help serve another need in the Lehigh Valley.

“It turned out people were taking food home to their pets,” said Linda Henry, president of the Animal Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley. “After Vanessa’s experience at Trinity Episcopal, she started a girl scout project to collect and distribute pet food once a month to help people care for their pets.”

By 2009, her idea had grown and gained more interest, momentum and support, with her mom, Margaret, and others becoming involved and eventually formalizing the outreach by establishing a nonprofit organization.

Originally set up in the basement of Northampton Community College’s Fowler Center in south Bethlehem, the Animal Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley moved to its own location this April at 860 Broad St., Emmaus, providing accessible space needed to store and distribute pet food.

“Most people don’t know there’s an animal food bank in the Lehigh Valley,” Henry said. “Our mission is straightforward – to keep companion animals in loving homes and prevent their surrender to the shelter system by supplying families with pet food in times of economic distress.”

The organization helps 300 families feed 1,312 pets registered for assistance, of which approximately 1,000 are dogs and cats. All pets must be spayed and neutered and up-to-date on vaccinations, and dogs must be licensed. People who meet the federal poverty guidelines, the unemployed, those on worker’s compensation and with low incomes are served by the Animal Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley.

“We’re here to foster the human-animal bond,” Henry said. “We look at our organization as the bulwark between having to give up a beloved pet or a pet going to a shelter or the pet having a loving home and providing companionship at a time when it’s most needed in the lives of people facing stressful situations and hardships.”

Volunteers distribute donated pet food, enough for a two-week supply, on the second, third and fourth Fridays of the month, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. from the office in Emmaus, which will be closed for the holidays on Nov. 25 and Dec. 23.

Henry said the greatest needs are usually for dry cat food and pocket pet food for rabbits, gerbils, fish and birds, “but all donations are gratefully accepted.”

Donations are accepted at the animal food bank’s Emmaus office, and donations smaller than the size of a grocery bag may be dropped off at the following locations throughout the greater  Lehigh Valley: Petco locations, 2920 Easton Ave., Bethlehem, 3300 Lehigh St., Allentown, 4632 Broadway Allentown; Allentown Cat Clinic 4090 Tilghman St., Allentown; Thoreau Veterinary Hospital, 3300 Fox Hill Road, Easton.

Monetary donations, which are used to purchase food or to cover costs of transport, storage or distribution of food, are also accepted and tax deductible. Checks may be made out to Animal Food Bank Services and mailed to Animal Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley, Box 4066, Bethlehem, PA 18018.

The organization also encourages and supports food drives by companies, schools and community organizations. Email afblehighvalley@gmail.com for information.

Donations and support make a difference for the people and their pets served by the food bank.

Amy Kocis, who serves as the organization’s volunteer executive director and manages the office during distribution days, has witnesses firsthand how the support makes a difference in people’s lives.

“One woman applied for assistance from the Animal Food Bank for help in feeding her two cats, Mittens and Max,” she said. “When we asked about her residence, she told us she was living in her car. We offered to find a home her cats until she was back on her feet, but she didn’t want to give up her cats. She said that Mittens and Max kept her alive. The Animal Food Bank provided her with all the cat food and supplies the cats would need for the upcoming month.”

Another woman recently came to the food bank looking for help feeding her cat.

“Her only income was Social Security, and she had recently moved to the Lehigh Valley to care for her elderly father,” Kocis recalled. “She had taken in the cat after another relative had passed away, but she had very little experience with cats and no food or supplies. We were able to counsel her on cat ownership and provide advice, as well as food for the month for her cat.”

Kocis also remembered another client on Social Security who applied for assistance.

“We asked how he was feeding his dogs before he applied,” she said. “He said that he was feeding cereal to the dogs because he had no dog food at home.”

Henry said no one in need is turned away.

“We’ll do what we can because a pet so often is more than a companion, especially when people hit a rough stretch,” she said. “We try to arrange for low-cost veterinarian service, if that’s needed, and refer to other charities that may be able to help pay those bills.

“If you’re thankful that you have a pet, then you know the love and comfort a pet can bring,” Henry added. “Whenever I think about how’d I feel if I lost a job or my home and what that would mean in terms of caring for a pet, I know how much our work matters here in the Lehigh Valley.”

For more information about the Animal Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley, visit afblv.com.

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