Regina Farinola lost her job four months ago after the COVID-19 pandemic started causing businesses to close.
Without a stable source of income, she turned to the Bonita Springs Assistance Office for help. But while the nonprofit's pantry is full of food for her, there was little for her pet cat to eat.
“I am down to cans of chicken and tuna and that is not the healthiest for cats,” Farinola said.
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On a recent afternoon she picked up the only box of cat food available at the assistance office pantry. There also was one bag of dog food among the bulging shelves of things for people to eat.
“None of the food banks have it,” Farinola said. “I am on 'E' for empty.”
Finding a solution for pet owners in need
Teri Lamaine, president and executive director of the Bonita Springs Assistance Office, said she was listening to Farinola and the many other clients who are in desperate need of food for their pets.
That’s why she teamed up with Lee County Domestic Animal Services to provide a pet food pick up day Wednesday, Sept. 23. People in Bonita Springs who need pet food can come to the food pantry between noon and 3 p.m. for items donated by Domestic Animal Services.
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Lamaine said it also would be great to receive donations of pet food from the public during the event.
“People can come to the pantry and donate dog and cat food so we can have some on the days that Domestic Animal Services is not here,” she said.
Lamaine said they have gotten a few small private donations of pet food, but never more than a few bags. The Harry Chapin Food Bank, which supplies a lot of the items at the assistance office pantry, does not provide pet food.
“We all do food so we said, ‘What else can we do to help people?’" Lamaine said. "What scares me is, that as an animal lover, we don’t want people feeding human food to their pets because that can cause more problems down the road. We listen to what the people are telling us. They need this. This is what we are hearing. We are here to serve our community.”
'People need their pets now'
Farinola said she just got a new job, but she won’t get a paycheck for another two weeks. She's transitioning from four months of no work or pay, and she said the upcoming pet food event is a lifesaver.
Lamaine said she hears this same story over and over. Even middle-class families that never thought they would have a need for it are requesting help. Lamaine said the assistance office is up 200% in local demand.
“For the last four or five months we have been getting a lot of requests for pet food,” she said. “The people in the community that (have) four-legged babies are affected too. We want people to come to our agency so we can not only feed you, but your four-legged friend.”
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Karen Fordiani, public information specialist for Lee County Domestic Animal Services, said they had a similar partnership with the Bonita Springs Assistance Office right after Hurricane Irma.
This time they plan to fill a van and a truck with pet food and have additional vehicles ready to head to Bonita Springs if more supplies are needed during the event.
Fordiani said the need is large right now, and while people can make an appointment and pick up pet food at the Domestic Animal Services food pantry, that is a long ride from Bonita Springs.
“People will feed their pets before they feed themselves,” Fordiani said. “We don’t want people to have to give up their pets because they can’t feed them. People need their pets now. It helps them cope with all the anxiety. People need their pets more than ever now, and we don’t want them to have to give them up because they don’t have food for them.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Pet food pick-up and donation event
WHERE: Bonita Springs Assistance Office, 25300 Bernwood Drive, Bonita Springs
WHEN: Noon to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23; pet food donations can be made at that time or dropped off between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call 239-992-3034 or bonitaassistance.org online
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