There are “pet-people” and there are “people-people.”
Volunteers and employees with the York County Council on Aging are both.
Year-round, five times a week, they take hot meals to senior citizens who can’t afford to buy groceries or aren’t able to prepare their own food.
Seniors with pets also need a little help feeding their cats and dogs.
Delivery drivers noticed several years ago that some seniors were sharing their daily meal with their cats or dogs because they couldn’t afford pet food.
For many of the nearly 800 seniors served daily, the Council on Aging’s delivery is their only meal each day.
Workers and volunteers were concerned because if a senior gives her food away to a pet, she puts her own health and nutrition at risk.
Volunteers like Nancy Bell now also bring Kibbles-N-Bits and Fancy Feast for the pets, so no senior misses out on all of her meal.
On Thursday, Winthrop University employees gave the Council on Aging about 250 pounds of pet food – enough to help York County seniors feed their pets for the next six or seven months.
This is the third year Winthrop has rallied close to Christmas to make a big donation of pet food.
A few other groups in York County help the council keep its pet supply stocked the rest of the year.
Holding her Chihuahua, “Gigolo,” 74-year-old Marcella Vinson of Rock Hill said the home-cooked meal for her and the toys and bag of food for her dog were a “blessing from God.”
“These people try to help somebody that can’t do it for themselves,” she said. “You don’t know how much it means to me.”
Bell takes food to Vinson three times a week on her delivery route around Rock Hill. The people she helps, she said, are always grateful.
The seniors bond with the Council on Aging’s employees and volunteers. Sometimes delivery drivers are their only interaction with people.
At the door with bags of pet food and people food, hugs and warm smiles are exchanged.
“It’s just so satisfying to see these people,” Bell said. “That might be their only meal for the whole day.”
Bell has her own pets at home – two dogs, one 12 years old and another 13.
The Council on Aging’s Highland Park office in Rock Hill has two office cats, “Cookie” and “Lucky,” and occasionally employees bring their small dogs to work. The Highland Park Senior Center offers activities and a hot lunch to those who can make it from home.
For those who can’t, like Julie Venable in Rock Hill, the meal and the social connection comes to them.
Meals are cooked at the senior center and volunteers like Bell load their personal cars and make the rounds. Thursday’s menu for Venable was chicken and dumplings, vegetables, a brownie and milk.
For Venable’s mixed-breed dog, “Olive,” Bell brought a big bag of Pedigree and new chew toys.
Bell’s arrival was like a late-birthday gift and an early-Christmas present, said Venable, who turned 95 last week.
Besides her family and the days she sees a Council on Aging volunteer, “Olive” is Venable’s only constant companion.
Winthrop’s gift bags of dog bones, food and toys sent on Thursday were “overwhelming,” Venable said.
Of seniors served daily across York and Chester counties, the Council on Aging estimates at least 200 have pets. Many have more than one.
The pet focus is important, said Lyn Garrison, marketing and development director for the Council on Aging, because animal companionship is therapeutic for a senior citizen.
“It’s important to their well-being and their health,” Garrison said. “That’s really their family and their life.”
Last year, the council provided 144,691 meals through its seven senior centers and home delivery program.
S.C. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell has visited the Highland Park center and praised the pet food delivery program.
“This pet food drive needs to spread throughout the year and across South Carolina to benefit those who have given so much and asked for so little,” he said this week. “Sharing pet food with seniors gives life and hope to them and their companions.”
Local Council on Aging leaders want to expand service for seniors with pets by partnering with a veterinarian or animal hospital in York or Chester counties. They hope a local vet will help, perhaps offering animal care and necessary shots and medicine at low cost for seniors.
The Council on Aging tries to help keep the seniors’ pets healthy, Garrison said, in addition to giving them food. Often, staff members and volunteers pay for medicine and veterinary care out of their own pockets.
The pets are so important for senior citizen health and happiness, she said, that in many cases, the Council on Aging will help a senior find a pet if she wants one.
In Venable’s case, “Olive” found her.
More than a year ago, Venable spotted the dog on her doorstep. She thinks someone abandoned the tiny dog, so she decided to let it inside and kept her.
“I don’t know why they did it,” she said. “But they did me a favor.”
Want to help?
Anna Douglas 803-329-4068