Melissa Zwang and a small band of volunteers spent a recent Thursday morning pouring measured scoops of dog and cat food into Ziploc bags.
The group meets once a month in a conference room at New Opportunities in Waterbury to make sure the agency's Meals on Wheels recipients get donated pet food to feed their beloved pets.
The program, called AniMeals, is the furry companion program to its Meals on Wheels and makes sure some 29 dogs and 49 cats are fed each day. Because so many of the seniors are homebound it is difficult for them to get to the grocery store to purchase pet food.
"We take care of their pets so they don't have to worry about how to feed them," said Zwang, a program director at NOW.
Lisa LaBonte, director of Senior Nutrition Services at NOW, said the program is vital because the social service agency found that many homebound seniors were under nourished because they were feeding their pets first or sharing their Meals On Wheels meals with them.
The program started last year and operates through the work of volunteers, many from the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, like Paul Bisnette, Jean Iris, Joan Karmuza, Verdell Bush, Carol Delagrange, and Walter Machnicz, a NOW employee who helps load up the measured pet food onto the trucks that deliver it to seniors. Machnicz's office is filled with donated pet food, a small price, he said, to make sure seniors get to keep their pets.
Then there is Francine Duverger who answered a call NOW put out in November looking for a volunteer to pick up pallets of donated pet food from Bozzuto's in Cheshire.
A retired television director of engineering, Duverger said she gladly answered the call. Volunteering is the best way to find your inner self, she said.
"I'm addicted to volunteering," she said.
NOW's website features several testimonials about the pet food program from Meals on Wheels recipients like 70-year John Gallagher of Naugatuck whose two Shih Tzus, Buster and Honey, not only provide him companionship but comforted him after his wife died.
NOW is a community action agency that serves clients in Waterbury, Meriden, Torrington and 27 surrounding Connecticut towns. It offers a variety of social service programs designed to eliminate poverty and assist people in need.