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A new initiative to help ensure that the pets of less fortunate individuals in Kelowna have access to supplies has ramped up in the Okanagan.
The Animal Food Bank was founded by Nicole Wilks and AJ Frey just over six weeks ago, and aims to provide food along with various supplies to the animals belonging to the homeless population of Kelowna.
Wilks was inspired to create the not-for-profit, volunteer-run initiative after meeting friendly pup Odin and his owner, on Leon Avenue this fall.
“I was at a local business on Leon Avenue when I came across Odin and his owner, naturally being an animal lover I asked to pet the dog and engaged in a casual conversation with his owner,” said Wilks.
“After the interaction, I headed home and couldn’t sleep that night as I was wide awake wondering how this man is able to feed his dog.”
Following some research, Wilks came across articles and studies which expanded on the benefits of pet ownership for individuals facing homelessness and which local shelters had the infrastructure in place to support clients with animals.
“[I found] that some of the benefits linked to these individuals owning animals included providing them with a sense of love, loyalty and companionship, which can lead to helping recovering addicts stay sober and keeping some of these individuals out of trouble,” said Wilks.
“The pet is essentially helping to save them, and sadly there are many shelters that put barriers in place that do not allow individuals with pets to benefit from their support,” she added.
Wilks discovered that both the Central Okanagan Food Bank and the Cornerstone Shelter operated by the John Howard Society offer pet supplies to those in need, however, she noticed that donations were quite scarce this time of year and thus the initiative was born.
“We thought this would create a way to kind of bridge the gap between the food bank and these shelters,” she said. “What we aim to do is ensure families can stay together and families include furry friends, we don’t want anyone to have to choose between feeding their pet or relinquishing them.”
As the project is still in its infancy, the system put in place will be subject to change as it continues to grow. For now, Wilks and her team have a trio of donation stations set up at local businesses in Kelowna and West Kelowna and are looking to add more to the roster.
Once the donation bins are full, the team gathers them up and brings the supplies directly to the benefiting organizations so they can be distributed as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“Right now, we are collecting donations and as quickly as they come in, we are dropping them off at the shelter and food bank because the need is so great,” said Wilks.
Currently, those who wish to donate are able to bring new and unopened pet supplies to Great Little Box Company at 3502 Spectrum Court, Total Pet at 1985 Harvey Avenue and Manchester Signs at #5-1718 Byland Road.
Eventually, the goal of the Animal Food Bank is to garner enough of an inventory that they can offer supplies to various types of organizations throughout the valley that offer support to pet owners in need.
“We want to end the stigma around who can have a pet and who cannot, we hope that we can get the word out there on the importance of pets and the importance of helping the people who have them.”
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