Pelham Cares is distributing indoor seed kits to local families. Vicky Smith and Aaron Harper with the first garden box completed. SUPPLIED

Donations of pet food, soil, and seed fund latest projects

Jennifer Dubé, Coordinator of Client Services at Pelham Cares, is used to fielding calls from residents about the food bank. But a recent inquiry germinated a new outreach project.

“A client called inquiring if we could provide soil so that they could grow their own food, which prompted us to think about providing a home garden kit for individuals and families, giving them the opportunity to grow their own herbs and vegetables to sustain a healthy diet,” said Dubé.

She added that in the past year, as Pelham Cares has seen an increase in demand for their services due to job loss during the pandemic, clients have increasingly expressed concern about the processed food they eat, and its impact on their health. Many suffer food allergies from gluten and dairy products, have diabetic health concerns, and require low sodium food due to heart disease and high blood pressure. A segment of food bank users have cancer or other chronic illnesses, and some have adopted a plant-based or vegetarian diet. The staff at Pelham Cares does its best to accommodate their requests.

“When the board of directors agreed to move forward with the soil and seed project, we put out an email blast to our clients to see if there was sufficient interest,” said Dubé. “We received a landslide of responses: ‘Our finances are so tight, we just could not afford to put any funds towards starting a garden, so this is amazing that you will aid us with this,’ ‘Groceries are so expensive, it is hard to eat healthy with fresh produce,’ and, ‘I have never gardened, but I would love to learn how so I can eat healthier.’ We let them know that planter kits would soon be available, and they were very happy to hear that news.”

The next step was to target social media, in order to find people to help assemble planting boxes. A couple of cabinet makers came forward, one to build indoor boxes from wooden pallets, while the other donated materials to build the outdoor boxes. A Pelham Cares volunteer pre-measured soil for the indoor boxes, while another sorted seed packets and researched gardening, so as to prepare a simple brochure to accompany each order.

“We even had one of our clients, who had pre-seeded their own tomatoes in April, donate a few of their plants, and local greenhouses has offered to provide pre-planted vegetables after the long weekend.”

Both indoor seed box kits and larger outdoor boxes are ready to go.

“We want to give a huge thank you to Jeff Carrey, Director of Operations at Cabico, in St. Catharines, for donating and constructing the large garden boxes,” said Dubé, “and also to Ross Duff, a retired Pelham cabinet maker who built the indoor herb planter boxes, and Miller DKI, who sponsored the soil and seeds for the project.”

As if the garden kits were not enough good news, Dubé also announced that the pet food inventory at Pelham Cares had been replenished, thanks in large part to Kevin Strooband, executive director of the Lincoln County Humane Society (LCHS) in St. Catharines.

The LCHS received a grant of $3,500 to purchase pet food, made possible by Humane Canada. Strooband went directly to the pet food manufacturer Mars Petcare (maker of Pedigree, Royal Canin, and Nutro brands) with the grant money, and Mars graciously turned a $3,500 purchase of two skids of food into a contribution of 14 skids.

“Pets are part of our families, and bring so much to our lives. This has never been more evident than throughout this ongoing pandemic,” said Suzanna Dalrymple, General Manager of Mars. “That’s why we’re so pleased to support the Lincoln County Humane Society, and help those pet parents in need with access to food.”

Strooband said that the grant and subsequent donation will reach many families and pets in need across the Niagara Region.

“Our goal is to keep families and pets together. Humane Canada, MARS and our Food Ontario food bank partners have worked together to meet that goal and to help our community.”

As many pet food recipients are unable to attend the LCHS shelter in St. Catharines, the organization formed new partnerships with several food banks across Niagara, including West Lincoln Community Care in Smithville, Community Care of West Niagara in Beamsville, Welland Hope Centre in Welland, Port Cares in Port Colborne, and Pelham Cares in Fonthill.

Those in need of pet food are encouraged to visit the Lincoln County Humane Society on Fourth Avenue in St. Catharines, or contact Pelham Cares at 905-892-5300.