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Families Able to Keep Pets at Home with Help from Food Banks

Animal shelters and advocates throughout the Pittsburgh area work hard to successfully relocate thousands of animals to their forever homes. But these organizations also strive to keep pets in the loving homes they already have. When a family faces financial struggles, taking care of their pets becomes problematic. Thankfully, some of the same organizations that place animals also provide assistance to financially strapped families through pet food banks.

How Does a Pet Food Bank Work?

“Our Chow Wagon Pet Food Bank partners with over 30 local food pantries and Meals on Wheels programs to provide healthy, nutritious meals for their clients’ pets,” said Cody Hoellerman, director of communications at Animal Friends. “We work with each of the individual pantries to provide them with food on a regular basis. We have volunteers who do deliveries while some partners come to Animal Friends to pick up their orders.”

The majority of Animal Friends’ Chow Wagon Pet Food Bank supplies come through donations from the community. “We gratefully accept donations of unopened pet food and treats and distribute it to our partner organizations,” said Hoellerman, adding that the organization also accepts monetary donations that can be used to purchase food for the Chow Wagon at wholesale pricing through their vendors.

Named for a black lab mix who—after being surrendered to a West Virginia shelter—found love at the home of a Pittsburgh attorney who gave her a new home on his farm alongside rescued horses, Ellie’s Pet Pantry at Humane Animal Rescue also supplies community residents with food for hungry pets. The organization’s goal focuses on keeping families intact and sparing them the pain of separation from beloved furry family members.

To qualify for temporary assistance, applicants must be at least 18 years of age. Pets must be spayed or neutered and kept inside of the home with healthy living conditions. Humane Animal Rescue also offers free spay/neuter programs.

Animal Advocates is an all-volunteer animal rescue organization involved in the rescue, care and placement of companion animals. Serving the Pittsburgh area since 1984, Animal Advocates has engaged in community-based advocacy on behalf of animals since its inception. To that end, the organization continuously explores ways to improve the care of the animals, encourage more adoptions and, overall, remove barriers that may be deterrents to pet ownership. Their pet food pantry has been formalized over the last few years to help meet that goal and be responsive to the needs of the community.

“Supplies for the pet food pantry come from donations collected at the Pet Supplies Plus in Bethel Park as well as from individual donors,” said Kierah Hanna, a member of Animal Advocates’ board of directors. “Food and supplies are distributed through the Coraopolis Community Food Pantry and West Hills Food Pantry.

“Additionally, if an individual reaches out directly to Animal Advocates requesting assistance, volunteers will coordinate a pickup or delivery of supplies as needed,” she added.

Dan and Lori Mihalcik volunteer spearheading the food bank project on behalf of the organization. “We are grateful for Lori and Dan’s oversight of this vital resource for the community,” said Hanna, noting that they can always use more people to help.

“My husband and I pick up and drop off food donations,” said Mihalcik. “Our three-year-old son helps with the sorting of donations.”

How Can You Help?

The loss of jobs and other sources of income, rising inflation and pandemic recovery have led to an increased need for donations. Your help can make an enormous difference by sparing children, parents, and family pets the heartache of separation. Also, keeping animals in their homes and out of a shelter avoids placing additional demands on the limited resources of animal rescue organizations.

Last year Animal Friends distributed a staggering 155,606 pounds of pet food, which equates to nearly 500,000 meals.

“We are always in need of donations (monetary or food) for this program,” said Hoellerman. “We are also in need of volunteers to join our efforts and assist with donation sorting and deliveries to our partner organizations.” Visit for more information on making donations.

As an all-volunteer organization, Animal Advocates always appreciates volunteer assistance. “The public can help by donating food items at Pet Supplies Plus in Bethel Park or directly to Animal Advocates during open hours in the Thrift Shop,” said Hanna, adding that supply drop-offs can also be scheduled by emailing the organization at More information on the project is located at

For Ellie’s Pantry, donations of canned or dry pet food can be delivered to their East Side or Northside facilities. Ellie’s welcomes donations for household animals of any species, including rabbits, ferrets, birds, hamsters, and guinea pigs. Monetary donations are also accepted and can be made online or by mailing a check made payable to Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh with “Ellie’s Pet Pantry” noted on the memo line. More information is available at

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