The holiday season is a time of year when many New Jerseyans reach out to help those in need.

Donations are made to food banks for humans, but animal welfare groups say many pets also need assistance.

“When people are trying to make ends meet and feed their families, of course we should think they’re struggling to feed the four-legged or finned, furred, feathered members of their family as well,” said Heather Cammisa, the president and CEO of St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center.

When people can’t afford to feed their dogs or cats, they sometimes wind up having to give them up.

“Studies come out every day reinforcing the quality-of-life benefits that we achieve by having pets. They say eat well, exercise and have a pet!”

Cammisa pointed out when you donate to a pet pantry “not only is it helpful to the animals, but it means so much to the families. They’re often feeding the food intended for them to their pet if they can’t feed their pet.”

“If we can help keep these pet families together and not have animals enter shelters that have loving homes, that just need help, that’s what we need to do.”

No one knows for sure how many pet pantries there are in New Jersey because there are a number of smaller, more informal organizations that collect food for animals, in addition to more well-established groups and county SPCAs.

To help pets in need, Cammisa said St. Hubert’s has partnered with several different groups that help hungry people.

“We work with a variety of programs, both food banks and social service agencies throughout central and northern New Jersey. Last year we gave out 67,000 pet meals.”

She noted some groups and organizations will only accept unopened bags of dog and cat food, but others will accept whatever type of donation you want to give.

“It will depend on the food pantry, their comfort level with using opened items,” she explained.

Cammisa pointed out we have about 6 million animals in shelters in New Jersey and across the country but what many people don’t realize is there are an estimated 23 million pets living in poverty.

“It’s wonderful to think, especially at this time of year, what can we do to help keep these animals in their loving homes with people who have fallen on hard times,” she said.

Cammisa recommends contacting your local SPCA, animal welfare group or a local food bank in your area if you want to donate, volunteer, or if you need assistance getting food for your pet.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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