Jan. 14—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — For those who need help feeding their four-legged friends, Arbutus Church of the Brethren is able to offer assistance.
Its pet food pantry has been operating since May, giving out free dog and cat food, treats and pet supplies.
Cheryl Edmiston, organizer of the pet food pantry, said she ran a pet food and food pantry in New York for 25 years prior to moving back to the area.
“When I came back, I knew I wanted to do volunteer work, so I decided to visit the pet food pantry at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (in downtown Johnstown) to see about the program they have,” she said. “I was then going to ask (Arbutus Church of the Brethren) to donate money, but they said we should have our own pet pantry. This kind of gives you more of a rural feel as opposed to trying to have a lot of people go downtown.”
The pet food pantry is offered from 10 a.m. to noon the second Saturday of every month at the church, 1201 Erickson Drive in Richland Township.
“The first three months, we had maybe three or four people,” Edmiston said. “We put it on Facebook and it just blew up. We were then getting 50 and 60 people, and last month, we had 75 people. We seem to grow about 20 new clients each month, so it’s really growing.”
When people arrive, they are asked to provide their name, address and phone number, the number of pets and the date, so organizers can record how many people attend.
“We keep track of repeats and new people, and almost every single month over the last four months, we’ve had 20 to 30 new people,” Edmiston said.
Dry dog and cat food is distributed in plastic gallon bags, and the amount given depends on the number of pets.
“If we get canned food, we give them one or two cans, and if we have treats, we try to give those out, too,” Edmiston said. “We try to do enough for a week.”
She said the feedback from people has been positive.
“They love it and bless us for doing this,” Edmiston said. “People are just destitute, and their pets are their therapy. I think those who don’t have pets don’t understand how important these pets are to people mentally to help reduce stress.”
Edmiston said the pet food pantry has pulled the church together, with many people getting involved.
“They all give and donate,” she said.
“We’ve also started a free table, and if anyone has any pet-related items, bring them in. We’ve gotten so much stuff, from beds to collars, and everything goes, so that’s incredible.”
Members of the Seven Hearts Project, a Johnstown-based group whose goal is to reduce the number of homeless pets in the area, have been volunteering with the pet food pantry to share their mission.
“We’ve been official as of August, and we’ve done two cat clinics, where we’ve spayed and neutered over 50 cats, and we have another clinic coming up at the end of January,” said Jackie Ondesko, a board member with Seven Hearts Project. “We’ve had people give us donations, and have not charged anything to the clients who come with their cats.”
She said members collect names and numbers of people who come in to the pet food pantry who are feeding feral cats and want to get them fixed, but don’t have the money for veterinarian bills.
“We’re here to offer that support,” Ondesko said. “Hopefully, in the next few months, we can help them get these cats fixed.”
She said the goal is to raise awareness of the importance of spaying and neutering pets.
“If we can reduce that number, it’ll be less of a burden on the pet food pantry,” Ondesko said.
For more information on Seven Hearts Project, visit www.sevenheartsproject.org.
Edmiston said as long as there is a need, the church will continue to offer the pet food pantry.
“We want people to know that they have a place to go to help them feed their pets,” she said. “We have people coming from Portage, Somerset and Windber, so we’re meeting the needs of the rural community.”
Those who want to make a monetary donation can send a check to Arbutus Church of the Brethren, 1201 Erickson Drive, Johnstown, Pa. 15904, and specify that it’s for the pet food pantry.
Food donations can be be dropped off at the church.
For more information, call 814-410-3151.