WILLOWICK, Ohio — These are tough times for shelters and pet owners. Financial struggles account for the number one reason animals are being surrendered. And just as food banks are a lifeline to people in need, so are "pet food pantries."
Look no further than Willowick.
At Willow Praise Church before services take place on Sunday, there is a distribution Saturday.
And the need is great.
"The services that we provide have become so much more important."
Elvira Bellegoni is hard to miss. She is a pint-sized ball of energy working among a line of other volunteers, sorting, packing, counting.
We've come to Ohio Paws With Purpose, a non-profit 501c3, that uses space at the Willowick church, as a storage and sorting center.
It's late Friday afternoon. By 7 a.m. the next morning, the cars will be lining up an hour before food is handed out.
"We are a pet food pantry, but we provide other services as well, besides the pet food," Bellegoni says.
The immediate need is food. They will distribute roughly 2,000 pounds in just two hours. Distribution takes place the fourth Saturday of every month, 12 months out of the year. The demand started rising during the pandemic, and has grown steadily.
"A lot of people lost jobs, the need for pet food increased. And of course now because of the inflation being so high, there is a greater need," Bellegoni explained.
"We get, in two hours, at least 125 people," she added.
Volunteers also take food to other nearby communities, such as Painesville, Fairport Harbor and Ashtabula during months when travel is good. They are also helping another church start its own pet food pantry.
The other services it offers: A medical fund for veterinary care when a pet is sick. They offer various spay and neuter services. When a vet confirms euthanasia is necessary for a pet, Ohio Paws With Purpose helps with those costs as well. For these additional services they do require proof of need.
A lifelong cat owner, Bellegoni didn't hesitate to jump in when the idea of a pet food pantry was suggested years ago. The volunteers she works with bring a smile to her days, and the pets Ohio Paws With Purpose helps fill her heart with joy.
"I think I was born holding a cat. I always always had cats I love dogs, too. They are family and they should be treated as such," Bellegoni said.
If you are interested in supporting Ohio Paws With Purpose, they have an Amazon and a Chewy wish list. They also accept monetary donations. You can find the information HERE.
Ready to volunteer? Head HERE.
Below is a list of other pet food pantries in our area: (*Please note: each pantry has different requirements, and guidelines about communities they serve.)
CC'S Cupboard - Richmond Heights
Geauga County Humane Society: Rescue Village Pet Food Pantry
Lake Humane Society - Auggie's Pet Food Pantry
H.E.L.P. "Helping Everyone's Loving Pet Food Pantry" (Facebook group)
Portage and Summit Counties:
People Care Pet Pantry (both)
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Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in a previous pets story on July 19, 2022.