How The Friendship Pet Food Pantry Started

The goal is that no pets are abandoned or surrendered to shelters because they can’t be fed.

About ten years ago, several small north-side pantries were closing for various reasons. The 47th Ward Clergy Council formed an exploratory committee to determine if that activity left the community’s food insecure population without sufficient resources. I was on that committee, and as part of that process we visited a pantry, Care for Real, that was feeding hundreds of people each week. But that organization also offered a monthly pet food pantry, and I was inspired by what I saw! It was run by a lone, determined volunteer: Bark Bark Club owner Patti Colendera.

Later that year, the North Park Friendship Center was preparing to open a second location in Lincoln Square. Together with Betzi Poole, Heidi Bush approached their Board and pitched an all-volunteer group offering a monthly pet food pantry at the facility. The thinking was no one should choose who in a family goes hungry, pets included.

One year later, in 2013, The Friendship Pet Food Pantry became a reality. We secured donated storage space to hold extra inventory at Stay, a neighborhood pet hotel, and were soon awarded a grant from Banfield of 25,000 pounds of pet food. We opened our doors that month and haven’t missed a month since!

To receive pet food and supplies, only Chicago residency and proof of pet spay/neuter status are required. If needed, we offer referrals for those surgeries & have an arrangement with PAWS for a reduced rate, as well. When we have surplus pet food we can’t distribute for whatever reason, we share our bounty with other organizations – who often reciprocate. We continue to be blessed by dedicated, generous pet lovers who volunteer their time, donate food, supplies, and help raise money (especially for the always requested cat litter!) and can’t thank them enough.

It’s humbling to see what we started a decade ago has grown into something that served over 800 pets last year. Pets are beloved members of a family – I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!

-Dara Salk

About the author: Dara Salk is one of the founding volunteers of the Friendship Center Pet Food Pantry. Since launching it in 2013, she has been a driving force behind its growth, creating relationships and finding pet food to distribute across Chicago and its suburbs. A longtime community activist, Dara has also helped found Forward Chicago, been a member of Riverbank Neighbors, 47th Ward Council, Green Council, and Senior Council, and served as the community outreach director for 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar.