CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Down-on-their-luck Bloom Township residents may not be forced to give up their pets thanks to the efforts of the Best Buddies Pet Pantry.
The all-volunteer, nonprofit group based out of Chesterton has been providing free pet food in parts of Northwest Indiana for the last four years. In December, it partnered with the Bloom Township Center, 425 South Halsted St. in Chicago Heights, to do the same for township residents.
"Our mission is to help reduce the number of family pets surrendered to animal shelters due to lack of food and help keep families and their pets together during financial hardship," said Cheryl Plomann, founder and president of Best Buddies. "We're helping to provide food for over a thousand pets a month in the areas that we service."
Plomann is involved with animal rescue and has empathy with those who can't afford to feed their pets. Her family helped her feed and vaccinate her two dogs when she lost her job about five years ago.
When she moved to Chesterton, she and her husband, Don, began helping neighbors and fellow church members in a similar way out of their own pockets. Cheryl set out some donation boxes that started filling up and the Best Buddies Pet Pantry was soon born.
The pantry relies solely on donations. A full list of donation box locations, including six in Illinois, can be found at www.bestbuddiespetpantry.org.
The website also contains a listing of distribution sites, items needed and contact information for those who wish to donate or volunteer. The Best Buddies Pet Pantry phone number is (219) 728-1401.
The pantry, which can be found on Facebook, also provides pet supplies, such as cat litter, when available. It shares information on low-cost vaccine clinics and spay and neuter services.
"We had no idea when we first started the need would be this great," Plomann said.
Pam Clarage and Dale Elosh are the Illinois residents in charge of picking up donations at the drop boxes in their state.
"We repackage all the food in one-gallon-size containers and then on a monthly basis I deliver the food to (Bloom) Township," Clarage said.
The couple owns a dog and a cat themselves and Clarage thought the pantry was a good way to prevent people from not only surrendering their pets to a shelter, but also from turning them loose on the street.
"It's very refreshing to be able to give back to the community that we live in," Clarage said.
Anna Scrementi, general assistance director for the Bloom Township Center, said township residents who meet income guidelines can come to the center once a month to receive pet food at the same time they collect their own food basket.
Those who wish to only receive pet food would need to meet financial guidelines and fill out an application.
Scrementi said that currently about 40 Bloom Township residents receive food for their pets every 30 days.
She said giving out free pet food enables people to keep the their own food for themselves.
"Some of our seniors and some of our really low income clients, I know that they take the food that they get from the pantry and they'll give it to their pets," Scrementi said.
She said one woman from Steger who was going through a rough time was able to keep her two cats as a result of the help she's received from the pantry.
Plomann recalled the time her husband was doing fundraising at the Petco in Highland and witnessed a mother with her three young daughters come to the store with the intent of surrendering their 8-year-old dog.
She said the woman had been crying and Don learned it was because her husband had left her and she lost her job, which meant they could no longer feed the dog they had owned since it was a puppy.
Plomann said Don directed the woman to the North Township Trustee's office for a two-week supply of food.
"(She) came back like two hours later and went up to my husband and gave him a hug," Plomann said. "She said 'You saved my pet.'"