New food bank for animals provides supplies for pet owners in need
Volunteer-run, B.C.-based initiative expands into Calgary with contact-free pet food delivery
COVID-19 has presented challenges for Calgarians that are both wide-ranging and acute — including a fiscal wallop in a period of pre-existing economic uncertainty.
But a volunteer-operated B.C. initiative has come to the city with hopes to alleviate some of that stress for financially strapped pet-owners.
The Animal Food Bank was founded by A.J. Frey and Nicole Wilks, an Okanagan-based couple who teamed up to provide pet food for people in need around Christmas in 2019.
- WATCH the video above to see the volunteers in action and hear from A.J. Frey.
It began after Wilks met a homeless man in downtown Kelowna. He had a dog named Odin, Frey told CBC News, and his wife couldn't sleep wondering how he would be able to provide for his pet.
The following day, they brought the man some dog food — and it was the catalyst for the project that distributes free pet food and supplies to anyone who requests it.
"Animals are everybody's family, and everybody's companions and friends," Frey said.
"In life, there are challenges. And ... there's going to be times where you have to choose between feeding yourself and feeding your pet. We wanted to eliminate that choice for people, so that they can make sure they're looking after themselves as well as know that their pets are taken care of."
No qualifiers necessary for aid, co-founder says
The Animal Food Bank saw a busy Christmas season in B.C., a slight slowdown after the holidays, and then ballooning business during the pandemic, Frey said.
It grew rapidly because they adapted to quarantine with a no-contact drop-off model that allows food to be delivered without face-to-face interactions, and expanded into Winnipeg before coming to Alberta.
Pet owners can order food on the organization's website by filling out a request form. The volunteers who run the food bank will then attempt to match what the pet is currently eating from its inventory, before it is delivered to the owner.
Orders can be made as many times as they are needed, and Frey said that there is no financial threshold to qualify for the service.
"There's no qualifiers, we're not here to judge anybody," Frey said.
"If you tell us you need help, you're going to get help. I don't care if you're the richest guy in the city or if you're struggling to make ends meet this month — it doesn't matter to us. If you need help, reach out."
Calgarian John Rogers, who owns three dogs, said the service has made an immeasurable difference for him after his work as a landscaper came to an end.
"I'm on unemployment, and that ran out. Paying rent, bills, it's really high," Rogers said. "They've helped us a lot. You don't realize how much."
'We really just want to make sure Calgary knows we're here'
So far, Frey said Calgary's Animal Food Bank has had an onslaught of donations.
In fact, it received over 20,000 pounds of pet food thanks to a coordinated effort from Smucker's Canada, the SPCA out of Ontario, and Container King.
With a "great influx of volunteers" at the helm, Frey said all the Calgary branch needs now is to coordinate with local businesses to organize distribution.
"What we're looking for from the pet stores around Calgary, right now, is just a place to have Animal Food Bank bins so that people can drop off food," Frey said.
"We're not asking for the pet stores to give us any kind of discount, just a place to collect so we can distribute."
Frey said they will try to coordinate with outreach organizations, community initiatives and Indigenous groups to spread the word of the food bank's arrival.
"We really just want to make sure Calgary knows we're here," Frey said.
"The reason it's so important for us to make sure we're looking after the animals is because that helps us make sure we're looking after the people who love those animals indirectly. So, we're taking care of their well-being, and we're helping them take care of the thing they love most in the world."
With files from Monty Kruger