One community food pantry in Chicago is working to help keep families in need and their pets together by providing pet food and supplies. The Irving Park Community Food Pantry started offering food and other pet items informally two years ago before stepping up efforts in the past year for the Pet Food Corner.
IPCFP already provided a range of services for its community but when the economic downturn hit in full swing in 2008, Executive Director John Psiharis saw an increasing need to help families with pets. Not only did a record number of families start to come to the center for help, more of them were asking for tuna or other food to help feed their family pets.
Helping community pets
The pantry is located at the Irving Park United Methodist Church at Keeler and Grace (3801 N. Keeler). The Irving Park/Portage Park communities served by IPCFP have a high number of households with pets. Because a good number of those involved in the Pantry are also pet parents, they were both empathetic and well aware of the importance of pets to a person or family.
“We also recognize that as a pantry, any help we can give them with pet food and supplies, frees up clients’ limited dollars for other critical households expenses including food, rent, etc,” says Psiharis. “If one is having difficulty providing for his/her family, the burden of also providing for a household pet(s) only increases their level of stress and anxiety.”
Pet Food Corner is born
A volunteer at the pantry – Marsha Niazmand – also volunteered as a foster home through CARE in Evanston. As she heard more request from clients at the food pantry asking for pet food, she started to bring in surplus pet food and supplies from CARE to share with clients in the summer of 2010. The program started to take root.
In 2011, Stacy Powell Bennett contacted the pantry with visions of a similar program. Bennett and Niazmand have combined efforts and the Pet Food Corner was born. Bennett reaches out to pet food and supply businesses for donations and to increase awareness. Volunteers pick up donations each week and some business have set up donation boxes to collect from their clients to add to the excess inventory already being donated to Pet Food Corner.
“Pet food is re-packaged into portion sizes and distributed as appropriate to our clients,” says Psiharis. “Marsha and Stacy continue to provide the leadership and oversight of this project. Presently, nearly 50 percent of our food pantry clients request pet food and many have expressed their gratitude to IPCFP for recognizing that pets are an important part of a family.”
Helping those in need
In May, over 1,762 people in 674 households received assistance and about half of those families have pets. All clients go through intake to confirm residency, income status, household size and they must meet USDA poverty guidelines. (Residents are from the 60641 and part of the 60618 zip codes.) With such a strong infrastructure of programs and volunteers, adding assistance for pets was a natural extension of services.
The IPCFP is open just three and a half hours per week – from 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. – on Wednesday’s. Donations of pet food, litter, treats and other supplies may be dropped off on Wednesday between 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Donations may also be left in the pet food donation bin during regular business hours Monday through Saturday. Enter through the Grace Street door and head to the lower level.
In addition to the food and pet food pantries, IPCFP offers on-site SNAP benefits assistance, a Client Resources Coordinator (funded by the Chicago Community Trust), nutrition classes, holiday distributions, Secret Santa program and school supply, winter coats, Easter basket and other special distributions.
Donations of zip lock bags are also appreciated for breaking down the food into smaller portions. Financial donations may be made via their website or by sending a donation to Irving Park Community Food Pantry, 3801 N Keeler Avenue, Chicago, IL 60641. Learn more about the organization and programs offered online and by following them on Facebook.
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