How 25,000 pounds of free pet food helped launch a permanent pet food pantry.

By Dara Salk

In February 2011, then Alderman-elect Ameya Pawar asked the clergy from the many churches in the 47th Ward to get together and prepare a report from their perspective on the needs in the ward. After Alderman Pawar took office, the Clergy Group chose to continue meeting monthly, and I joined them as the alderman’s representative.

The closing of several small food pantries near our ward was brought to our attention. After some discussion, a small outreach group formed to ascertain if there was a need for another pantry in our area.

As part of our research, I visited Care for Real in Edgewater, which has a food pantry and is also home to a monthly pet food pantry. This was a much-needed resource that I had never heard of before. I told the group that if a new food pantry was in our future, I would like to spearhead a replica of the pet food pantry that Patti Colandrea, owner of the Bark Bark Club, runs at Care for Real.

The Clergy Group decided to move forward with a food pantry on the north end of the ward*. One of the pantries we visited, North Park Friendship Center, was ready to take on a second location: Lincoln Square Friendship Center, on Lawrence Avenue, was born.

The board of NPFC was kind enough to offer us free space within The Friendship Center for food storage and monthly distributions. We decided to call ourselves The Friendship Pet Food Pantry, or FP2 for short.

The Friendship Center front window

In March 2013, as a presenter at the American Council on Aging, I met Dianne McGill of the Banfield Charitable Trust, a national foundation that supports efforts to keep people and their pets together. With her backing, FP2 became eligible to win 25,000 pounds of pet food through the Trust and Royal Canin. Unbelievably, we actually got 20,000 “likes” on Banfield’s Facebook page!

Finding storage for 25,000 pounds of anything is difficult — storing pet food brings its own challenges. Michael Heltzer, founder of Found Chicago, a dog rescue organization, and Stay dog hotel, offered us storage space; a local family owned business, GP Albums, gave us the use of their forklift and driver. Local resident Brad Snook offered up his trailer, which could hold up to 6,000 pounds. We were in business.

On a crisp autumn morning, a semi pulled up with a truck-load of pet food. A Banfield veterinarian and many volunteers helped load waiting vans with FP2’s allotment, which we shared with Care for Real and PETsCan, a pet food home delivery service for seniors. We loaded the balance (20 pallets) into storage space at Found Chicago, and later donated more food to the Animal Welfare League and Pets Are Like Family.

With Patti of the Bark Bark Club as our mentor, and Betzi Poole as my hand-picked, perfect partner, we were off and running. Soon after, in October 2013, we distributed our first pet food donations at the Lincoln Square Friendship Center.

*Due to redistricting, Lincoln Square Friendship Center (now The Friendship Center) and Friendship Pet Food Pantry are now in the 40th Ward. The pet food pantry serves all residents of Chicago, regardless of location.