Start a Pet Food Bank

You’ve probably seen an increasing number of news stories about pets being surrendered by owners who can’t afford to feed them. With the steady stream of news about layoffs and foreclosures, more pet food banks are being established to address this heartbreaking situation.

Following are some ideas and considerations for setting up a pet food bank. This article refers to ongoing pet food banks and distribution rather than one-time pet food drives.

Every venture starts small, so any size pet food bank will be helping needy pets. You can start as a distribution of food one day a week with those in need picking up food from a retail store or parking lot. Or, it can be much larger in scope, such as a daily offering of pet food in partnership with a community food bank for people.

Large city-wide participation may be harder to achieve but a goal you could set. A good example of a city-wide effort is in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department brokered an arrangement in which PETCO Foundation is supplying about two tons of pet food per month to be delivered to the Storehouse. The Storehouse is one of the major food pantries in Albuquerque and provides free food products to qualified low-income households. Community food drives will be conducted to gather even more food. The Mayor of Albuquerque was also involved. He’s an animal lover who’s participated in fundraising for homeless pets.

How to set up a pet food bank – what to consider

Who will coordinate the program and take responsibility for all efforts coming together to be sure the maximum amount of pet food reaches needy pets in the most efficient way?

Examples could be animal shelters, local or regional food banks (for people), a partnership of pet food stores, or pet lovers with the time and organizational skills to coordinate the effort. With an increasing number of animals at shelters, they may not have the time, room, or staff to be responsible but could offer ideas on planning and implementing a pet food bank program. If you team up with an already established group in your community, you may get more donations initially.

If you need to set up a new organization, you’ll need to file for 501(c)(3) status to be tax-exempt. Starting up a new organization will require that you educate potential donors of your purpose. No matter how you approach your organizational status, be sure to keep donors informed of what you’re receiving in donations (both dollar and pounds of pet food) and specifically what you’ve accomplished. For example, how many pounds were distributed last month, how many families picked up food, etc?

Who will receive the food?

Will you qualify recipients based on income, limit the food based on the number of pets, etc? If you have a very large number of people asking for food relative to food available, you may need to establish some qualifiers to be sure the food is fairly distributed.

Pet food banks can also provide food to animal rescue groups or animal shelters. Since their donations are down, helping them provide food for their animals will help these pets live another day.

Where will the food be stored and distributed?

If food is donated or collected at a variety of drop-off points, how will the food be transported to the distribution point where those in need pick up the food? For an ongoing community-wide effort in which citizens donate food at drop-off points around town, it’s quite an undertaking to pick up all the food and deliver it to a central distribution point. Dependable volunteers with the muscle and vehicles to do this are essential.

If food is donated on pallets by the truckload from a food manufacturer, obviously it should be shipped directly to a central distribution point.

For distribution, think of groups already providing food for citizens in need, such as food banks and programs which deliver food to homebound or disabled citizens. By working with an established food bank, you’d be reaching those in need since no doubt their pets need food too. If these groups can accept donations and deliveries of food, this would be the easiest way to establish a pet food pantry. Of course, they will need enough warehouse space to do this.

Even if your local food bank chooses not to set up an ongoing pet food bank or can’t due to budget limitations, ask the director if there’s any way to work out an arrangement to work together. For example, the Food Depot here in Santa Fe serves northern New Mexico through about 100 member agencies providing food to those who need it. Clearly, the distribution network is set up already, but they don’t buy any pet food with their dollar donations or actively solicit pet food donations. However, they do accept donations of pet food and distribute it to those who need it. They’re working very hard with the funds they have just to meet the food needs of people but are willing to help distribute pet food.

If you have no established food bank to team up with, you could work with a retail store to help you store the food until you can distribute it. Or, advertise for someone to donate a storage space. Often retail stores or other businesses have plenty of extra storage space they might donate. Would veterinarians and kennels in your area be willing to set up bins for animal lovers to drop off pet food?

For distribution, you could establish a weekly pickup day from that store’s location or parking lot. Another pet food pantry here in Santa Fe consists of a handful of retail businesses, including two pet boutiques (they both sell high-end pet products and sponsor pet adoption days), which collect pet food at their locations. A thrift store that benefits a nonprofit group in town serves as the pickup point. This arrangement requires a good bit of manual labor to collect the food and take it to that location.

Finding food donations

This is the real challenge – to find ongoing donations of food to help needy pets and their humans. Anything helps, so even a steady stream of food in small amounts is appreciated.

If there are no options in your area to partner with a (people) food bank, you’ll need to start from scratch.

Could you approach the mayor, animal control, or even an association of business owners in your community to help generate food or money donations for a community food bank? Think big! Pet lovers are everywhere, and no one likes the idea of pet owners giving up their beloved pets as a last resort when they’re financially strapped. Contact the local shelter for facts and figures on what’s happening in your community. How many pets have been surrendered? How many of those have been euthanized? What’s the daily cost of those animals to be housed at the shelter?

Ask for donations from pet food stores or pet food manufacturers. Often pet food chains are willing to donate slightly damaged pallets of food (the same concept as grocery stores donating what they believe they can’t sell to food banks). Contact the stores in your area regarding this possibility.

Set up drop-off bins at a variety of businesses in your community so shoppers and clients can drop off donations. Perhaps pet food stores/chains, pet boutiques, kennels, veterinarians’ offices, etc. would be willing to accept bins. You’ll need a group of volunteers to pick up this food and deliver it to your food distribution point.

An ongoing and committed food supply along with dollar donations is ideal to keep the program going. You’ll need a secure website that accepts donations. Paypal is an easy way to accept donations online.

If you can set up a program for donors to donate money and buy the food yourself at a discounted price, that would be ideal. Buying in volume is much cheaper than individuals buying retail. Perhaps work out an arrangement with a local pet food store and/or large chain store to purchase food at a price slightly marked up from the wholesale price they pay so they still make money but sell in volume.

Can you find a committed group of organizations or associations in your community to donate on a regular basis? For example, the downtown merchants association, the art gallery association, the teachers of Santa Fe Community College, etc. To keep a pet food bank supplied with food, a steady stream of dollar donations from a variety of locals plus pet food drives coordinated by groups like these would help.

Visit Fundraising for Pet Food Banks for ideas on finding ongoing financial support for your pet food bank. Finding Individual Donors for your pet food bank outlines ways to get publicity in your community to spread the word about your service.

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