ST. CHARLES – On Wednesday, Ralph Mueller of St. Charles was expecting his usual delivery of meals from a volunteer with The Salvation Army’s Golden Diners Senior Nutrition program.
But this delivery came with an extra perk – a small bag of food for his dog, Giusseppe, a maltese-poodle mix.
“I appreciated the dog food,” he said, noting that it’s one trip to a store he won’t have to make.
This week, The Salvation Army launched its latest initiative by delivering pet food to 111 seniors and their 187 pets. A $2,500 grant from Banfield Charitable Trust helped launch the program, allowing Salvation Army volunteers to deliver pet food to seniors four times a year.
Maj. Ken Nicolai, director of the Golden Diners Program, said a few years ago, a couple of volunteers raised concerns because they saw seniors sharing some of their meals with their pets.
“In this one case, it was a cat, and the cat looked pretty hungry. And the senior was at risk of malnutrition,” he said. “That kind of alerted us.”
Nicolai said for the past two years, The Salvation Army has distributed pet food around Christmas time to seniors, which they’ll continue to do, but the recent grant helped them expand the frequency of the program.
He said The Salvation Army conducted a survey of the seniors asking whether they had pets, and if they had trouble feeding or caring for their pets. He said more than 100 seniors responded that they needed extra help feeding their pets.
“People say, ‘Why don’t they just give their animal to somebody else?,’ ” Nicolai said. “You’re talking about people who live alone, and without that pet, they’d be even more lonely than they already are. The pets are just such good companions for them.”
He said pets also can keep seniors alert by giving them some responsibility.
“We’re just hearing back from seniors [about] how grateful they are,” Nicolai said. “They really do care about their pets. Sometimes, they might even put their pets before themselves.”
For information about the Golden Diners Senior Nutrition Program or to volunteer, call 630-232-6676.