Cost of living crisis: People aren't eating so they can feed their animals, says Sheffield's only 'pet food bank'
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It’s a lesson Alison Smith has seen time after time in just one year of running Sheffield Pet Food Bank.
"I’ve spoken to people who take the meat from their food bank parcels and feed it to their pets because they’ve got nothing else,” said Alison.
"I get messages from people saying they don’t want to lose their pets. They feel like they’ve failed them. They’re going without food themselves first.
"Pets are family. They’re loved ones. They don’t want to lose them.”
Alison, from Halfway, who also works as a pet nanny, began the project with four donation points and a single partnered food bank.
Today, Sheffield Pet Food Bank is delivering 2,000 meals a week to 20 locations, including homeless charities and community centres. They have 14 volunteers and drivers running just as many collection points, and are serving Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster, Barnsley and Gainsborough.
Even now, Alison says she has donations for up to three weeks stocked up. And because she has only ever run it from her house while working around her jobs, she has had to stack it in her garage.
But for all this expansion, the need is getting worse – and the last two months have been the worst yet.
"I didn’t realise just how many food banks there were,” said Alison. “There are just so many people reaching out for help.
"I had a message from Southampton recently, just someone who said they were struggling and if we could help feed their pet. I wish I could say yes to all the messages we get.
"It’s all up and down the country. The need is massive.
"If people don’t have anything to feed their pets they take it out of their food parcels instead. Or they won’t put their heating on so they can afford food.
The Universal Credit cut, soaring energy prices and National Insurance increases means more people than ever are worrying how to feed themselves, let alone their pets.
But it comes as figures show pet ownership soared during the pandemic. The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association suggest the number of households with an animal rose by 3.2m to a staggering 17m in the year after March 2020.
And, as Alison has learned, if people cannot feed their pets then they have to make the heartbreaking decision to rehome them.
Alison said: “If the pet food bank can help then that means pets can stay in a loving home.
"I just think it’s really sad."
Alison said: "We rely on the public for donations, and we are always looking for more help and advertisement.
"We’ve had some amazing help from the RSPCA, Thornberry Animal Sanctuary and from Helping Yorkshire Poundies, who we’re able to call if we’re short.
"We’re also really grateful to Rachel at the Bradway Pet Store, who asks customers if they would like to round up purchases then buys pet food for us at cost.”