SALEM — When a man showed up at Haven from Hunger in Peabody last week, he wasn't only looking to feed himself.
"He just had no idea how he was going to be able to feed his dog," program manager Kate Benashski said.
Thanks to a new community pet food bank started by Northeast Animal Shelter, the food pantry was able to help them both. In addition to getting his own meal, the man was given a 50-pound bag of dog food for his beloved pet.
"He had tears in his eyes," Benashski said. "His dog is his lifeline."
While the demand has soared at food pantries during the coronavirus pandemic, advocates say the problem of hungry pets can be overlooked in such difficult times. Since Northeast Animal Shelter created the pet food bank in March, it has given away nearly 4,000 pounds of donated pet food.
Benashski said the pet food donations fill a vital need because some of the food pantry's clients will feed their pets before they feed themselves.
"We've never seen folks this scared," Benashski said. "To the extent that we can try to ease that a burden a little bit with the pet food, it's just one less thing for them to worry about during this period."
Shelter workers deliver dog and cat food to local food banks and shelters for distribution, including Haven from Hunger, the Salvation Army and HAWC in Salem, and The Open Door in Gloucester. People can also arrange to pick up pet food at the shelter on Highland Avenue in Salem.
Jamie Garabedian, the community relations manager for Northeast Animal Shelter, said the shelter held a pet food bank over the holidays last year and was looking to establish one on an ongoing basis.
"The silver lining was the COVID outbreak was a catalyst to get it done," she said.
The shelter has received donations from individuals and local pet food stores. Donations can be dropped off in a big yellow bin in front of the shelter at 347 Highland Ave. in Salem.
The food includes all types and brands of dog food and cat food, as well as items like kitty litter and puppy pads. "We want to make sure there's something for everybody," Garabedian said.
The community pet food bank allows Northeast Animal Shelter to continue its mission, at least in part, during the coronavirus pandemic. The shelter itself has been closed to the public since March 24, and adoptions are not being offered.
Garabedian said most of the shelter's animals are in foster homes for the time being. About 10 remain in the building due to medical needs and are being monitored by staff.
"We're trying to be a resource as much as we can to the community at this time," Garabedian said.
If you are in need of dog or cat food, email email@example.com or call 978-745-9888, ext. 362.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.