Free pet food available by the ton

Surplus from Hurricane Sandy relief sits in warehouse

December 21, 2012 (published)
By Edie Lau

Photo by Mike Witkowski
Shop foreman Desi Medina offloads pallets of donated dog and cat food at the warehouse of ZipJack Custom Umbrellas in Elmsford, N.Y. The donation by a pet rescue organization intended for Hurricane Sandy relief was so great that most of the food remains in storage with nowhere to go.
Editor’s note: After this story was published on Friday, hundreds of requests poured in for the pet food. It is now all spoken for.

If it truly could rain cats and dogs, ZipJack Custom Umbrellas might not be in this predicament.

The umbrella factory in New York is in possession of 40 pallets of dog and cat food, wet and dry, donated for Hurricane Sandy relief. It has no one to eat the food.

Volunteers were able to distribute six of the original 46 pallets of food to storm victims but because the outpouring of donations from all quarters was so generous, demand ebbed for the remainder, according to the coordinator of a local relief effort, Dr. Brian Green.

Now the food — wrapped in 3-by-3-foot blocks, each weighing some 250 pounds — is occupying warehouse space belonging to ZipJack, whose owners had offered what they thought would be temporary storage.

It’s been nearly two months since Sandy made landfall on the New Jersey shore, mowing over coastal communities in that state and in neighboring New York.

Green, a veterinarian in Tarrytown, and Mike and Martha Witkowski, owners of ZipJack in Elmsford, jumped into volunteer efforts to collect donations — food, paper goods, cleaning supplies and more — and deliver them to storm-wrecked areas.

“Following that,” Green recounted, “one of the good-hearted people that was with us who happens to be a breeder made contact with a Texas rescue organization that trucked up to us about 50 pallets of pet food. That’s just tons of food.”

He continued: “It was very well-intentioned, but it got shipped to us before we had a distribution channel for it.”

That’s when the Witkowskis offered their warehouse space.

Some of the food made it into the hands of rescue organizations tending to pets displaced by the storm. “But because of the generosity of so many people,” Green said, “the need has been markedly diminished in the area.”

Mike Witkowski, who has become quite familiar with the specifics of the donation, said the food consists of Cesar and Pedigree brands for dogs and Whiskas brand for cats. "We have 20 pallets of Cesars and two types of Pedigree — big bags and smaller bags of treats," he said. "The Whiskas, there's two different flavors, all soft packets."

Together, they occupy 600 square feet of space where workers normally do repairs. “Luckily, we were able to move over” to another space for that, Witkowski said.

But soon the largesse will pose a real inconvenience, as remodeling is on ZipJack's schedule in January. “I have to hold off until I can clear that spot out,” Witkowski said.

Green surmises that there may yet be pet-owning storm victims who could use the food. And if the need isn’t great among Sandy survivors, then certainly pet owners down on their luck for other reasons would welcome the provisions, Green believes.

It’s just a matter of reaching them.

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