MASSENA — Donations to take care of needy people may be down, but help for needy pets is up this year at the animal food pantry.
The pantry has received so many donations that volunteers are thinking of staying open an extra month this year.
"It's either extend it or open it up to more people," pantry organizer Sandra L. Donaldson said. "It's got to be one or the other."
In its second year, the pantry distributes pet food to the elderly who would have trouble feeding their animals from December to March. This year, it may continue handing out food into April at the Massena Neighborhood Center.
While donations to some other charities have been down because of the tough economy, the animal food pantry is seeing giving increase. Donations have come in from all over St. Lawrence County, including the Parishville ATV club, Parishville-Hopkinton Central School's Honor Society and the staff at the St. Regis Nursing Home.
"It hasn't seemed to affect us at all," Mrs. Donaldson said. "I was a little skeptical about what was going to happen this year."
Nor are fundraising efforts complete yet, she said. There will be a pet photo contest later this month running into February. There is a $5 entrance fee, with all donations going to buy more food and other supplies.
There also is a need for this kind of charity. Twenty-four people are getting help this year, up slightly from 20 last winter.
"They are so appreciative," she said. "Particularly, I think with the old ones, sometimes I think it's all they have and they would rather go without than give up their pet."
Difficulty buying pet food is not a common reason for people to give up their animals, according to Massena Humane Society shelter manager Heidi J. Bradish. Instead, most animals come back to the shelter because of allergies or people moving away.
"When people love their pets, they'll do without to keep them," Mrs. Bradish said. "We even see some people who probably should give up their pets because they're barely making ends meet themselves."
The pet food pantry originally was intended to help people over age 62, but it has been expanded to help some younger people as well.
"They didn't meet the age criteria, but they were on disability and weren't working and were there at the Neighborhood Center getting food for themselves, so we gave them a load too," Mrs. Donaldson said.
The Massena Humane Society also hands out free food to people in times of emergencies. The bags and cans the shelter provides are donations from Walmart and most are ripped or dented food containers that can't be sold.
"We have people come here almost every day," Mrs. Bradish said. "We try to let people know it is just during emergencies and tough times, rather than having them rely on it, so we can help more people."
Another group may be receiving help from the pantry as well. Mrs. Donaldson and the other volunteers will discuss at an upcoming meeting helping Massena students whose families can't afford to feed Fido or Fluffy.
"If they have a child come in in tears about having to give up their pet, we could help out," she said. "It wouldn't be a regular thing, but if they come across a kid, we could help."