The Prince William County Animal Services Center receives donations of dog food, some of which cannot be used on site but is now being directed toward doing some good in the homeless community.
“We know that many of those experiencing homelessness will work to take care of their animals,” said Director of the Animal Services Bureau, Anthony Cleveland. “In some cases, they’ll forego eating themselves to be able to feed their pet. If the animal is being cared for, then we want to leave the animals in place.”
Cleveland worked with the Prince William County Department of Social Services to find a way to get the surplus dog food out to the homeless and their pets. Serving Our Neighbors, or SON, a non-profit organization that serves the homeless in the western end of the county, stepped in to help.
In August of 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virginia Airborne Search and Rescue donated a used, 54-foot mobile command center, to Feeding Friends, a ministry affiliated with Gainesville United Methodist Church, that delivered meals to the homeless in the Sudley Corridor.
Volunteers converted the vehicle to serve as a drop-in center to provide meals and help in any way they could. The volunteers worked with the Prince William County Department of Social Services Homeless Services Division to get the project up-and-running.
“We are parked in the parking lot of Manassas Presbyterian Church and those who are experiencing homelessness to come to us. Our goal is to create a safe location to get them connected to services and that’s how Serving Our Neighbors was born,” said SON Secretary Teresa Belcher.
“Serving Our Neighbors came forward, and we worked it out with them,” Cleveland said. “We get food donated to us that we can’t necessarily feed to the dogs in-house, but it’s perfectly good food.”
Volunteers at the Animal Services Center repackage the food into resealable bags and put the bags in large bins. Center volunteers then deliver the bins to SON’s bus.
“When they get low, they call us and we send them another bin,” Cleveland said.
“It’s hard to give up a dog that’s part of your family,” said SON Secretary Teresa Belcher. “Being able to provide the homeless with the dog food ensures that their pet is getting nutritious, balanced meals and the individual that’s homeless is not taking away from the funding they use to feed themselves to feed their dog.”
“It’s just another way we’re trying to care for animals in our community,” Cleveland said. “We know that the animals are there. We want to help make sure that the basic needs of these animals are being met. They are companions of these homeless people, and we don’t want to negatively impact them.”