Seniors and people with disabilities can add pet food to their weekly meal delivery.
BRADENTON — If Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee County didn’t deliver donated dog and cat food, Louis Holliday’s mahogany-colored pit bull mix and two cats would be eating the meat loaf, barbecue chicken and broccoli meant for him. But thanks to partnerships between the nonprofit and individual donors across the county, fewer seniors and pets are going hungry.
After Meals on Wheels Plus volunteers noticed a growing number of clients giving their food to pets, the nonprofit started working with the community to add pet food to their meal deliveries.
The Meals on Wheels Plus Pet Food Program relies on donations and volunteers and continues to grow in popularity as seniors began to eat better, stay healthier and worry less about feeding their furry friends.
That takes the weight off Holliday’s shoulders and keeps a steady supply of dry and wet food in the pantry for his dog Kia, 5, Louie, a 1-year-old ginger tabby, and the stray cat that sleeps on his roof.
As he spoke, Louie played with the curtains and Kia sprawled on the couch with her head in his lap.
“My pets are important to me; they’re my whole life,” said Holliday, 74, who lives in an apartment in Village of the Arts in Bradenton. “Meals on Wheels knows that.”
Holliday began using the service shortly after a debilitating surgery left him too weak to cook or shop for himself. The retired painter survives off Social Security — $800 a month for housing, lights and water — and cannot drive.
Meals on Wheels Plus is just one area nonprofit serving low-income seniors and people with disabilities, but it has a vast reach. It serves approximately 700 people through its home-delivered meal program. Of those clients, 34 also receive pet food.
Other Meals on Wheels programs in the region and nationwide provide similar add-ons for dogs and cats.
The Food Bank of Manatee, the largest hunger relief organization in Manatee County, solicits, picks up and repackages the animal chow for Meals on Wheels Plus.
Those who qualify for Meals on Wheels or similar programs are eligible for the pet food program.
“We are understanding of the fact that pets are oftentimes the sole companions of our home-delivered meal clients and we work to ensure that both our clients and their pets are receiving the nutrition they need,” said Towery.
It is common for low-income seniors or people with disabilities to feed their dogs or cats instead of themselves, Towery said. The nonprofit started allowing clients to add pet food to their home delivery in 2010.
It takes approximately 570 volunteers to collect and distribute 3,300 pounds of donated dry and wet food for dogs and cats each year.
The biggest challenge is getting donations, Towery said. Despite bins in pet stores and markets where people can donate, he said, “We often have to purchase pet food to meet the needs in our community.”
For Holliday, volunteers do much more than deliver meals. They are almost like family — he has received postcards from Sweden and Yellowstone, among other vacation destinations.
“They look out for me and my pets,” said Holliday. “They help me thrive.”