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Volunteers work to fill empty pet bowls in Niagara County

NIAGARA FALLS – When you barely have enough food in the cupboard to feed yourself, an empty pet food bowl can seem overwhelming.

But a number of people in Niagara County have found ways to help.

A Lewiston mother and daughter started a pet food pantry in conjunction with Community Missions in Niagara Falls a little more than a year ago, traveling around Niagara and Erie counties to pick up dog and cat food donations to distribute at the Missions’ site at 1570 Buffalo Ave.

A Wheatfield woman on a fixed income also has been collecting pet food donations to redistribute to the needy on her own for the past four years.

And a Niagara Falls couple not only regularly donates to these two specific causes, but has taken on the task of capturing feral cats, having them spayed/neutered and vaccinated, and returning them to their surroundings in the city’s South End. They currently maintain three healthy colonies of about 30 cats, making sure they have fresh water, food and shelter each day.

And these are just a few examples of how area animal lovers have put their passion into action.

Kelli Barraclough credits her daughter, Angela, now a 17-year-old junior at Lewiston-Porter High School, with coming up with the idea of the pet food pantry.

“Angela has a heart of gold – it’s just the way she is,” Barraclough said.

Angela recalled one patron, in particular, whose story touched her.

“There is one man who has small dogs and a couple of cats and he was working, but had an injury,” she said. “He’s just a very, very sweet guy and it’s nice to help him in any way we can.”

Barraclough mentioned how the extra food provided through the pet food pantry may even determine whether someone is able to keep a pet.

“This pantry might help a situation where someone may put their animals on the street if they can’t afford them anymore,” Barraclough said. “And for a lot of them (Community Missions patrons), a pet is all they have.

“One woman who came to us for pet food said, ‘My dog doesn’t judge me,’ ” she added. “I said, ‘I understand exactly what you mean. Pets give unconditional love. They don’t care how much money you have or where you live. They love you just the same.’ ”

Barraclough, who owns two dogs and four cats herself, said, “We know pet care can be very expensive. A lot of these people are on public assistance and you can’t use food stamps to buy pet food. Some are street people and some live in abandoned houses. We wanted to help them so that they could keep their animals.”

Barraclough, her son, Riley, 18, and Angela take the large bags of donated food and break them down into smaller plastic bags for distribution.

Barraclough, who works full time for Siedlecki Cataract and Vision Care, said many business associates have run pet food drives out of their offices for her cause.

“One of my biggest donors,” she said, “is Marge Trifilo, who works at Hairworks (671 Delaware Road, Tonawanda), and has a box by her desk. It amazes me, what she collects.”

Trifilo, a cat lover, said when she heard of the Barracloughs’ project, “My heart went out to them. They are doing so much.”

Community Missions spokesman Christian Hoffman said an average of 30 patrons visit the Barracloughs’ pet food pantry at the Missions, open from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the last Saturday of the month. He added that the Missions staff has been pleased to support volunteer projects, spearheaded by people like the Barracloughs.

Always on the lookout for more donations, Barraclough noted, “We are only able to give out what we can take in as donations.”

Paulette Coty of Wheatfield, who operates more of a mobile pet food pantry, now calls her project, “Mario’s Pet Food Pantry,” to honor her son who died of colon cancer at age 42 in 2014.

“He was an animal lover and I do this in his memory,” she said.

Coty said she would love the opportunity to acquire nonprofit status in order to seek grants and she also would love to have a permanent home for her pet food pantry.

As it is, she travels across Niagara County and, like the Barracloughs, simply distributes the donations as they come in. She is at Immaculate Conception Church in Ransomville from 10 a.m. to noon Mondays; Niagara Presbyterian Church in the Town of Niagara from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays; and Urban Towers in Lockport from 1 to 1:30 p.m. on the last Monday of each month. She also visits the North Tonawanda Farmers Market once a month, from April to October.

She is particularly drawn to those serving in the military, “who leave their pets in the care of others, then come home and need food for their pets,” as well as low-income patrons.

Coty said that since her son’s death, this pet food mission has given her a reason “to get out of bed.”

“It makes me feel good if I can help somebody,” she said. “The more I hurt, the more I go out and help.”

Coty asks for proof of low-income eligibility or military identification, but added, “I don’t refuse anyone.” She also requires that the pets be spayed or neutered and up to date on rabies vaccines.

“Pets will give you 200 percent and ask for nothing in return,” she said. “But the worse situation is when someone takes in a pet and isn’t able to afford them.”

Muriel and Gino Forte of Niagara Falls have volunteered time and money for years to help care for feral cats, currently helping maintain healthy colonies in the city’s South End.

Muriel is in her 52nd year at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, currently as a staff development educator, while Gino is a retired engineer.

She urges the public to “support the trap, spay/neuter and return programs where such community projects exist. It’s very critical. You can’t just keep putting food out.”

She said she and her husband have long supported the efforts of Kelli, Angela and Paulette with food donations.

“Our minister said, ‘God created animals to be our companions,’ ” Muriel said. Her husband chimed in: “And everybody’s got to eat.”

To patronize the Pet Food Pantry at Community Missions, contact Jan Fidanza at 285-3403, Ext. 2248 and to donate to this pantry, contact Kelli at 380-1212. To donate to Coty’s cause, reach her at pcoty@roadrunner.com or 465-3654.