Area food pantry volunteer expanding mission to include pets

Thursday, November 19, 2009
Steve Vitale, organizer of Cause 4 Paws, unloads pet foods from Holly Little's vehicle Wednesday afternoon while donating bags to the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri in Cape Girardeau. (Kit Doyle)

When a girl in June asked food pantry volunteer Steve Vitale for unfrosted cereal, he was a little puzzled but also dismayed that he was unable to honor the request.

But since the girl and her mother were regular clients, he paid for the unfrosted cereal out of his own pocket and waited for her to ask again. When they returned in August, he was ready, both with the cereal and a question.

He wanted to know why, when most children prefer the sugary taste of frosted brands, the girl was adamant she needed unfrosted.

It turned out, he said, the girl needed food for her dog. And he realized that families who have difficulty feeding themselves have even less money to dedicate to the needs of their pets.

So Vitale, who volunteers at several area food pantries, said he decided to do something, so he's launching Cause 4 Paws with the goal of providing dedicated storage facilities stocked with pet supplies at as many local food pantries as possible. So far, he's found food donors and is supplying animal shelters with food parcels when possible. He's also planning a fundraising push in coming months because the rules governing food pantries require pet food to be stored separately from human food to minimize the possibility of attracting pests.

"It has all been because of that little girl who wanted unfrosted cereal," Vitale said.

On Wednesday, Vitale and friend Holly Little delivered several bags of food donated earlier in the day to the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri shelter at 2536 Boutin Drive. The shelter harbored 70 dogs and cats and one bunny Wednesday, and 40 animals had been dropped off there in the past three days.

"We always have empty mouths," said Cheryle Dillon, director of the Humane Society.

The economic downturn has added to the list of reasons people leave their animals with the Humane Society, she said. The economic reason isn't just the cost of food; it can include unaffordable veterinary bills and other expenses as well, she said.

Giving up the family pet because of the cost can hurt at a time when a family is struggling, she said. "Some people don't realize the spot the animal fills in a person's heart," Dillon said.

Vitale's effort will help ease that burden just a little, Dillon said. "It is great that he thought of it."

To raise the money needed for storage, Vitale has lined up benefit events Dec. 22 at Rude Dog Pub, 123 N. Main St., and Feb. 13 at Port Cape Girardeau, 19 N. Water St.

Vitale said he is "from St. Louis via New Orleans." He's worked in the music industry doing sound and lights for bands, pursued a Ph.D. in psychology in the 1990s and moved to Cape Girardeau in 2005.

"Life is a lot of trials and tribulations," he said. "You don't know what is going to happen."

Since moving here, he has found what he calls a giving city with good people who "make me want to call this home."

He volunteers at several food pantries, including the Christ Episcopal Church, 101 N. Fountain St., and St. Mary's Catholic Church, which distributes food from a location on North Spanish Street. It has become a calling, he said. "I feel like an instrument of God."

A service like Cause 4 Paws will be a welcome complement to the network of food pantries in the region, said Karen Green, director of the Southeast Missouri Food Bank. "Having a pet shouldn't depend on your family income," she said. "If there is such an agency just designed to serve the needs of pets, that opens pet ownership up to all families."

Green said she intends to reach out to Vitale to help him contact the corporations that have established relationships with the food bank through the Feeding America program. "We would love to be involved in some way," she said.

If Cause 4 Paws takes off, Vitale said, he doesn't expect to have any difficulty finding ways to use the food. "But if I get so much pet food I can't handle it, I'll rent a storage facility," he said.


Want to help? Contact Cause 4 Paws at P.O. Box 1473, Cape Girardeau, MO 63702

Pertinent addresses:

2536 Boutin Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO

123 N. Main St., Cape Girardeau, MO

19 N. Water St., Cape Girardeau, MO

101 N. Fountain St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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