One Bark at a Time: Animal Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley

By Jennifer LoConte

Our furry household members, those we call our pets, are an essential part of most American families. They enrich owners’ lives and, with each wagging tail or purr, bring a smile to our faces. Some pets are workers and enjoy helping their human friends while others prefer to lie around the house on a comfy chair. Whatever their preference, pets give unconditional love and aim to please. Having a healthy and happy pet can also be expensive. As a pet owner, I know how much it costs not only to feed one dog and three cats, but also the expense of pet care. Annual exams, grooming and special vet visits are not cheap. Throw in the various types of food and it can add up to a small fortune. According to the ASPCA, the average cost of owning a medium size dog is approximately $1,500/year and a cat costs roughly $1000/year. With the country’s current economy, it’s no wonder that people are forced to make the gut-wrenching decision to relinquish their pets to shelters, some of which are already filled to capacity.

Thankfully, the Animal Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley, a non-profit organization located in Bethlehem, serves the needs of pets and their families by providing food and other supplies at no cost. Now in its sixth year, the Food Bank was originally founded by Vanessa Segaline, a Girl Scout from Hellertown, as part of a Girl Scout service project. Judy McHugh, President of the Animal Food Bank’s board of directors, has worked there for the past two years. She says, “We usually have enough pet food to distribute for a two-week period and sometimes have additional supplies like leashes, pet shampoo, toys, treats and cat litter.” Besides the typical canine and feline variety, they also supply products for animals like fish, ferrets and guinea pigs. McHugh says, “If it’s an animal and classified as a pet, we try to help.”

How can a pet owner become a client at the Food Bank? McHugh stresses that because of tougher economic times, it puts a strain on the availability of pet supplies and notes, “Our client base has [exploded]–from serving roughly 300 pets and their owners per month to 1300.” Additionally, requirements have become stricter. Pet owners must present proof of household income, a license or photo ID, current dog license, rabies vaccination certificate as well as number and description of animals in the household. If the pet does not have current vaccinations, the Food Bank holds low-cost vaccination clinics four times per year and will also steer owners to clinics at local animal shelters.  McHugh says, “A second goal of the Food Bank is to educate the public about the importance of pet health through vaccinations as well as population control through spaying and neutering.” She is also personally involved with feral cat control, holds spay and neuter days and even fosters animals in her own home.

The Food Bank is operated solely through volunteers. Their board is made up of a variety of community members, some of which include: an attorney, veterinarian, court officer, graphic artist and senior citizen. These folks, in addition to other Food Bank volunteers participate in a variety of community events like pet fairs, educational events, parades, even a booth at Musikfest. McHugh says, “We are grateful for communities to become involved with our food bank. Holding a pet-drive can help countless numbers of family pets and their owners to stay together.” Pet-drives can be large events held by a school or other group in addition to smaller drives, perhaps held by a single family. She continues, “Simply putting a box outside your door, telling family and friends you are collecting pet supplies means a lot. With the holidays right around the corner, it could make a big difference for needy pets.”

The Animal Food Bank is currently in need of volunteers who can assist with carrying large pet food bags as well as other heavy items. With the dramatic increase in clients, the Food Bank hopes to one day have a larger home. McHugh’s dream is for the Food Bank to operate out of a larger space perhaps a former medical office or building that will allow room for a food bank, low-cost vaccine and spay/neuter clinic, pet gift shop as well as the ability to host monthly pet adoption fairs. In the meantime, the Animal Food Bank will continue to strive towards keeping pets and their families together.

The Animal Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley is housed at The Fowler Family Southside Center of Northampton Community College, Room 73, located at 511 East Third Street, Bethlehem. Clients may pick up pet food and supplies on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Fridays of each month from 1:00 to 5:00pm. Pet donations can be dropped off at the same time, however, if those times are not convenient, you are encouraged to call the Food Bank (484-851-8000) and arrangements can be made for pick-up of your donations.

(Wish list items are located on the Food Bank’s website, If you prefer to make a monetary donation, you may do so online or through the mail. Also listed are upcoming events as well as important pet food recalls.)

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram