How to start a pet food bank


So you want to create your own pet food bank? Here are a few tips to get you started and keep you sane.

You've decided to start an organization to help the animals you care for every day. But where do you begin? With a good plan, a lot of hard work and the following steps, you'll be well on your way to establishing your own locally-run pet food bank, says Caitlin Rivers, co-founder of Pet Pantry of Central Pennsylvania. .

Find a group of at least two or three like-minded people.

• You'll need a board of advisors for incorporation and to apply as a non-profit. Plus, it's nearly impossible for anyone to do this alone. Challenge yourself to find people outside the veterinary community-they might have ties to church groups, social clubs, or other avenues that you don't.

Enlist a lawyer to file for incorporation and 501c3 status.

• The laws for non-profits differ from state to state and can be overwhelming when you aren't familiar with them. Talk to the heads of a couple other animal-related non-profits to see what they can tell you about their experiences. Then find a lawyer who's both animal-friendly and familiar with non-profits. Be prepared to spend money on this-it will be the most expensive part of the set-up.

• Not filing could be a huge mistake. You'd be ineligible for many corporations to assist you and you could open yourself to lawsuits should anyone ever challenge you. The price for filing also goes up once you've established yourself and have started raising funds.

Find locations where you can collect and store donations.

• Ask several businesses to serve as drop-off points for food donations. We use an animal hospital that lent us space in a spare room for storing donations, but you could use any business. Remember that these businesses are helping you. Pick up donations as they request so their people don't end up frustrated by their generosity.

Hold regular food drives.

• Nothing will spread the word faster about your new organization than taking action. Hold food drives on days that are convenient. This may take some trial and error on your part to determine whether you see more donations during the week or weekends and during the day or evening. 

Select distribution sites.

• Contact area human food banks and ask what potential interest they may have in participating. Be prepared to hear that they don't think people want pet food. Remember that many food banks have seen giant increases in need over the past year as funding and donations have dropped. Many directors fear getting involved, but gently ask if they could do a quick survey of need during their next distribution. Just be up front with what you're willing to do to help them. You're asking them to increase their workload and their volume of food to store, so to ease their burden, offer to drop off a day or two before they distribute or pre-bag the food.

• Find an emergency food distribution site. This needs to be a place that's open a lot and can store a lot of food. In our case, it's a human food bank that serves seven days a week. In other areas, people use an animal shelter. This will be your main supplier to people when they call you in need, so choose carefully.

Decide who you will serve.

• We all want to help everyone but our main concern is to keep animals in houses where they're loved. This means putting the bulk of our food into the hands of owned animals. Several rescue groups wanted us to supply food for them as well, but our resources are limited. It's better to build bridges than walls, so ask if they can help you coordinate a way to work together. Also help them understand that by limiting your allocations to keeping animals in homes you're reducing the burden on their organizations. If you can provide help, by all means, do. But it takes time to build an organization. You'll need to determine your priorities.

Spread the word for less. 

• To publicize your organization, you'll need lots of fliers. Try to find a copier who's a friend and would donate free services because the costs associated with making copies add up.

• Use free Web site builders such as Yola to create a professional Web site without the start-up costs. Use mass e-mails and ask people to forward them. Use church bulletins and the like to get the word out.

• Many radio stations and Web site calendars in your area will post information about food drives and other fund raising events for free. Don't be afraid to take advantage.

Remember you're not alone.

• Schools, service organizations, and animal groups all will help, if you ask.

• Speak up. Ask local grocery stores and veterinary clinics for donations of damaged goods.

Be patient.

• The need will always outrun your donations, but anything you do is better than doing nothing. Don't get discouraged and don't give up. Remember, most groups take years to build.

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