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Food bank for pets helping ease cost-of-living pressures for S.E. Calgary residents

An outdoor food bank for pets is helping residents in a southeast Calgary community struggling with the rising cost of living.

The big, red pantry stands next the the Albert Park Radisson Heights Community Association, alongside an existing food bank, built for locals trying to make ends meet and put food on the table.

The community is located just west of Forest Lawn and east of Barlow Trail.

The man behind the idea, Syed Hassan, says it could mean the difference between people surrendering a pet to a shelter or being able to keep and feed them.  

Hassan and his Love With Humanity Association is behind more than a dozen outdoor food banks and multicultural libraries installed across the city and neighbouring communities over the past few years.

Syed Hassan stands in from of two red, glass-fronted food banks.
Syed Hassan started building and installing outdoor food banks during the pandemic, through his Love With Humanity Association. Now he is meeting a growing demand from pet owners to provide a similar service. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

“This is very helpful and it’s open 24/7. People love this idea,” said Hassan.

“This economic situation and hardship makes it very hard for some people to put food on their tables. They are paying bills, mortgages, rent and other stuff. It’s hard to look after pets. and pets are an important part of our society,” said Hassan.

Debbie Todd, who lives just up the street from the food bank, says she used to pay $50 or $60 for pet food. That’s now more like $100.

“These are our family members, and people don’t want to give them up.… I’m noticing with the hard times that some people have to give up their animals because they can’t afford to feed them,” said Todd.

“It helps to have something in between a paycheque,” she said.

Nancy Kearny sits on the edge of a flower bed in front of a food bank and new pet food bank.
Nancy Kearney of the Albert Park Radisson Heights Community Association says the new food bank will help local residents and homeless people who pass through the area. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Others say help with food and snacks can secure the vital companionship and mental health support that pets can provide during tough times.

“I think the food bank is a good idea, because just for groceries and a tank of gas it’s easy to get low on money. But when some people are going through hard times, a companion — a dog, cat, even a parrot — can do a lot for you,” said resident Liam Leblanc.

The food bank will also help the area’s homeless population feed their pets, says the local community association.

Liam Leblanc pets his small dog on the grass next to the food bank.
Liam Leblanc says pets play an important role in people’s lives and can be a huge stress reliever for people who are struggling financially. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

“This playground and area is a very active piece of ground for pets. We do have a lot homeless people and they have dogs. Some of them are support animals, so you don’t criticize ‘why have you got an animal if you can’t afford to feed them?’ So it’s very beneficial to have a resource that people can turn to,” said Nancy Kearney, former president of the community association.

“I think this has been a real plus for our area, and I hope to see more in the city. It takes hard work and you can’t put a price on the people who step forward and make this happen,” she said.

Hassan says he’s already built and set up a second pet food bank, located in Whitehorn, in the city’s northeast.

A third one is now in the works.

“We have different requests from communities. There’s a great demand and people love the idea,” he said.

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