New York, NY —
Several food pantries across the city are not only stocking their shelves with staples like rice, tuna and peanut butter, but also with pet food, litter and even chew toys for New Yorkers struggling not only to feed themselves, but their pets too.
Cathryn Krouser, 74, visits the Community Kitchen and Food Pantry every three months. She’s sitting on a motorized scooter that she deftly maneuvers through the narrow aisles. A volunteer is helping her fill a basket. She gets onions, meat patties, tuna, yogurt and orange juice for herself. And today, for the first time, she will pick up a little food for, as she puts it, her “dependent” as well.
Krouser’s dog isn’t with her that day.
“Bandit is home with an attitude,” Krouser says.
She says the little black dog is adorable but has bad manners. Still the 74-year-old considers Bandit her constant companion. She says he rides underneath her on most days, sometimes wearing a hoodie just like hers.
“This is his car. He rides right there. He doesn’t want anybody to come near his car and he hates big dogs,” Krouser says.
While he may not be friendly, Krouser considers her pet better for her than any therapy or medical intervention. She can barely meet her monthly expenses but says she would never consider giving him up. Normally, to feed him, Krouser says she collects recyclable bottles from her neighbors:
“I take the bottles to the supermarket and that’s how I buy his dog food and pay for his nails. He has his own bank and I put his money in his bank,” Krouser says.
Deborah Di Fronzo is also a struggling pet owner. She says she lost her job, got ill and is in the process of getting evicted. Her 14-year-old poodle, Gigi, who’s going blind, is poking her head out of a black bag. She’s quietly eating liver snacks from Di Fronzo’s hand.
“This dog is what’s kept me going. I’ve had, as many Americans have had, the year from hell. I ended up in emergency surgery and this is the only one that stayed by my side the whole time. And I would do anything I had to do to keep her and to keep her fed,” Di Fronzo says.
Di Fronzo says she’s on food stamps, but they don’t cover pet food and so she searched until she found a place that could help. One day recently, she walks away with a five-pound bag of Whole Earth Farms Dog Food – Senior Formula.
Jesse Taylor is Director of this West Harlem food pantry. He says donations for pets covers more than just food.
“We’ve gotten litter. We got pet toys. We’ve got bowls, really nice stuff. It just comes in as a donation. We have no budget to buy pet food so to receive it as a donation is great,” Taylor says.
The Food Bank for New York City distributes these pet donations to Taylor’s pantry and about a dozen others across the city.
“Often times they have a waiting list of clients that have pets and as quickly as we distribute it, it gets consumed,” Taylor says.
David Grossnickle, director of food sourcing, says the donations are coming from animal welfare organizations as well as big food companies like Del Monte. This week, Petco is holding a pet food drive. The stores in all five boroughs are participating. According to Grossnickle, the donations are definitely in demand. He says food pantries in the city can’t get enough.
Over the past eight months the Food Bank has distributed 33,000 pounds of pet food. Grossnickle says while feeding humans is the organization's first priority, providing food for pets helps them stay in families.