When a little boy was seeking help during the winter holiday season from Project Just Because, which provides food and resources for people in need, he was asked his top three wishes.
“A treat for my dog,” was one of his responses.
That answer reinforced something founder and executive director Cherylann Lambert Walsh has always believed: “When a family has an animal, the animal is part of their family.”
And when a family falls on hard times, the well-being of a pet becomes yet another worry as family members struggle to afford a grocery list that includes pet food and supplies.
For that reason, Project Just Because has long offered pet food and supplies that people can take when they visit the food pantry.
People often have made generous donations of pet items so families can help their four-legged friends. But sometimes the demand would exceed the supply.
So Project Just Because has joined forces with Baypath Humane Society of Hopkinton to ensure a steady supply of pet items will be available to people who need them.
“We want to take the stress off these families who are in need,” Walsh said. She hopes that knowing help is available for their pets will “make people a little more comfortable.”
Many people, including seniors, have a special bond with their pets, whom they consider “their family,” she said.
Walsh said that knowing food and supplies are available for their animals can help people avoid the devastating possibility of having to relinquish a beloved pet for lack of financial resources.
“If it saves one animal from having to go to the shelter and the stress of a child having to give up their pet, it’s a gift,” she said.
For Baypath, partnering with Project Just Because made sense, said Elizabeth Jefferis, executive director of Baypath Humane Society of Hopkinton. The humane society receives a significant amount of food donated by individuals and pet food companies.
“Sometimes we have a lot extra,” she said. “It’s food that would expire, and we don’t want it to go to waste.”
Learning that clients of Project Just Because could use help for their pets created an opportunity to reach out. “It was an exciting discovery for us to have a place in town that already has the recipe” for connecting people in need with items that can help them, she said. “They do it so well. What they do for this community and beyond is fabulous.”
The effort reflects an evolving role for animal rescue groups, Jefferis said. In addition to providing shelter, care, humane treatment and loving homes for stray or unwanted companion animals, the organization also strives to be a “community resource.” Baypath provides education on animal care to children to “encourage empathy” at an early age and also offer low-cost pet care clinics.
“If people need help, we want to be able to help,” Jefferis said.
Walsh encourages people to visit the shelter at 109 South St. Mondays through Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to obtain food and supplies both for people and their pets (visit projectjustbecause.org or call 508-435-6511 for details). The pantry offers clothing and other items — including masks — in addition to food and is able to deliver in special circumstances.
This collaboration is “very important to us,” Jefferis said. “We’re very excited.”