Posted by JF&CS
A CHAI Works-South participant holding a dog.
“There is just something about spending time with animals that puts a smile on your face,” said Heidi Isler, the Manager of JF&CS CHAI Works-South in Canton, MA. “Petting a dog or a cat is so soothing, so healing.” For participants in our community-based day program for adults with disabilities, volunteering with The Pet Pantry has been a wonderful opportunity to connect with new four-legged friends — and their owners.

Helping Pets Stay in Their Home

The Pet Pantry is a nonprofit organization in Brockton that distributes pet food and related items to those in need. Founded in 2009, The Pet Pantry helps families keep their pets in their homes when they are struggling financially. “We have served people who are enduring all kinds of situations,” said Corinne Lawson, president of The Pet Pantry. “We have clients who have undergone major surgeries and are paying off medical bills, single parents or those who are recently divorced, veterans, senior citizens, and people with disabilities.”

Since July of this year, CHAI Works-South has been helping The Pet Pantry with distributions every few weeks. The distribution process begins at The Pet Pantry’s outpost at the Animal Protection Center of Southeastern Massachusetts, where the CHAI Works team picks up large bags of dog and cat food, cat litter, leashes, toys, and other items. Next, our volunteers take the donated supplies back to the CHAI Works office where they measure, rebag, and relabel the pet food and litter.

“Preparing the pet supplies for distribution is very instructive,” said Heidi. “Our participants learn to work as a team, to clearly communicate with one another, and to take pride in their work.” In addition to prepping the donated items, CHAI Works participants also make their own homemade dog biscuits and toys to distribute to Pet Pantry clients.

Distributing Pet Supplies

After all of the supplies have been rebagged and relabeled, the CHAI Works team heads over to Sullivan Towers, an affordable housing development in Brockton, to distribute the items. “Visiting Sullivan Towers is such a meaningful experience for our participants,” said Heidi. “They really enjoy having the chance to interact directly with the people and animals they are helping.”

During each distribution, the CHAI Works volunteers set up a table with all of the available pet supplies, so residents at the complex can “go shopping” for the items they need. This marketplace-style distribution presents a great opportunity for CHAI Works participants to practice their social skills.

Before volunteer sessions, Heidi and the CHAI Works staff help participants think about appropriate conversation topics and questions. The residents of Sullivan Towers always give our volunteers a very warm reception. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for residents to hang around after they have finished shopping so they can keep chatting with our participants!

A Rewarding Partnership

Of course, a highlight of the volunteer experience is meeting the residents’ pets! During most visits to Sullivan Towers, some of the residents will bring their furry friends to the distribution. “Interacting with the dogs and cats at the apartment complex is a blast for the CHAI Works volunteers,” said Heidi. “Most of our participants don’t have pets at home, so this is a real treat.”

The Pet Pantry is currently working on converting a semi-trailer into a new distribution/storage center and hopes to expand its services to more communities. As The Pet Pantry grows, Heidi hopes that CHAI Works-South can help the organization in new ways. “Partnering with The Pet Pantry has been such a joy for our participants,” said Heidi. “We believe so strongly in their mission, and we can’t wait to see what is next for them.”

JF&CS Day Programming and Employment Services create meaningful and fulfilling opportunities for individuals with disabilities to lead productive and integrated lives in their communities and increase their feelings of self-worth and confidence. For more information, visit us online or call 781-647-5327.