When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, food pantries saw an unprecedented surge in demand as people watched their jobs—even entire industries—disappear overnight. Today, people still need help feeding themselves and their families, however many legs they may have.
Loudoun County Animal Services, Loudoun Hunger Relief and the Humane Society of Loudoun County have partnered since 2013 on a pet pantry to help people who can’t afford to feed their dogs and cats. And just like the human food pantry, the pet pantry has seen a surge in demand at the same time that donations and fundraising became more difficult.
“Our goal is to keep the pet in the home,” said Loudoun Humane Society President Juanita Easton. “We figure if they can’t afford to feed their kid, they’re not going to be able to afford to feed their pet, and we don’t want these pets to have to be surrendered to a rescue or shelter just because we can’t feed them.”
People who need help feeding their pets pick that up at the same place they pick up the food to feed themselves, at Loudoun Hunger Relief. The Humane Society doesn’t have a physical shelter to distribute food donations—Easton sorts donations into food packages in her garage—so Loudoun Hunger Relief has set aside some space in its warehouse.
“This partnership enables families to be able to keep their pets, keep the whole family intact,” said Loudoun Hunger Relief Associate Director Erika Huddleston. “Because we all know, especially those of us who have been home during quarantine, pets can really help people’s emotional and mental wellbeing.”
And the need is there.
The food is sorted into three kinds of kits—for cats, large-breed dogs and small-breed dogs. Before the pandemic, the Humane Society or Animal Services would deliver about 30 kits of each type every week—to 90 pets that would be fed through the program. Since the pandemic hit, they have tried to up that to 40-45 kits of each, but have hit some difficulties raising donations.
Many of the places where that food is donated, such as veterinarian’s offices and pet supply stores, closed at least temporarily during the pandemic. Supply chains have also tightened, with some people hoarding pet food against the uncertainty of the future during the pandemic.
“It’s been difficult these last several months, because the food supply is sort of not there,” Easton said.
Fortunately, the Loudoun Humane Society has been able to win some grants to keep the pet panty going, and donation boxes have been added in new spots, like the Leesburg farmer’s market on Sundays. And that’s a good thing—every week they distribute several hundred dollars worth of food.
“It’s a very well-liked and -used program, and we’ve been increasing every year with the amount of food that we try to take out there,” Easton said.
When people set up an appointment at Loudoun Hunger, they are also asked if they need any pet food.
To donate to the Loudoun Humane Society, or to find a spot to drop off some pet food, go to HumaneLoudoun.org/donate. There you can find drop-off spots, donate money, or even buy from the Humane Society’s Amazon wish list. Only adult food can be used—no puppy or senior food. And as much as possible the Humane Society is looking for smaller bags of food, three to five pounds, to avoid opening, handling and repackaging food during the pandemic. The Loudoun Humane Society is also looking for a space, available long term, to sort and package donated food.
If you need help feeding yourself or your pets, Loudoun Hunger Relief is one of several food pantries in the area. Go to LoudounHunger.org for more information.