The holiday season is the season for giving.
People generously donate time, money and items to local organizations that help others in need. Many people also give generously to help family pets in need.
One local organization, Meals on Wheels of Stark and Wayne Counties, has been holding a pet food drive for the past eight years. It collects pet food for clients who have a difficult time getting out of their homes.
The drive is part of the "Season of Suppers" initiative sponsored by the Banfield Charitable Trust of Portland, OR and the Meals on Wheels Association of America.
Teresa Barry, chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels of Stark and Wayne Counties, said getting involved with the program was an easy decision.
"We got involved when we realized how many of our clients were sharing the meals we deliver to them with their pets," Barry said. "Our clients need to eat their entire meal so we thought we would try to help collect food for their pets. The program has grown every year and last year we collected over three tons of pet food."
Barry said the volunteers who deliver the meals to homebound clients become familiar with them and their pets and the volunteers get know what kind of pet food they need. The clients are appreciative of the food they receive for their pets.
"The pet is the client's companion," Barry said. "Sometimes the only person the client sees on a regular basis is the volunteer delivering the meal. The clients would just become lost without their pets and we know that when they share their delivered meal with the pet, that it comes from the heart."
Becky Bernhard, community relations coordinator for Meals on Wheels of Stark and Wayne Counties, said that the organization collects pet food throughout the year. They hope to get enough food from the holiday drive to get through September of each year. In past years, the Royal Canin Company has donated pet food to get their clients' pets through the remainder of the year.
"The dog and cat food collection is part of an ongoing, year-round campaign called 'Wheels for Wags,' where we take donations throughout the year and when we get low we'll start a new drive for donations," Bernhard said. "The 'Season for Suppers' is the biggest drive we hold."
Meals on Wheels of Stark and Wayne Counties delivers meals to 1,300 to 1,400 clients. Barry said the majority of clients have limited incomes and have difficulty getting out to buy pet food.
"We've started asking our new referrals if they have a cat or dog especially when we learn they are living alone," Barry said. "Having the ability to deliver the pet food along with the client's meal is helping the client, the pets and the caregivers and is less of a strain on the client's income."
Page 2 of 2 - The local pet food drive campaign has been so successful that a few years ago Banfield used photos of Meals on Wheels of Stark and Wayne clients and their pets on their yearly calendar. Each month had a photo of a different client with his or her pet. The calendar is sold nationwide. Barry said the calendar sold out that year.
"We've received calls from other areas around the country including the Chicago Mayor's office to find out how we set the program up and got it going," Barry said.
She said that the feedback from the clients has been overwhelming. Clients now call into the office to let them know they are low on pet food.
"The volunteers have embraced the program and some even take their own pets along on deliveries," Barry said.