When money’s tight, people don’t experience food insecurity alone. Their pets do, too.
Cue the Madonio Animal Trust, which is dedicated to alleviating that suffering. Created and administered by Portage County’s Madonio family, the nonprofit recently launched its Doggie Bags program, providing dog and cat food to pet owners experiencing food insecurity.
Any pet owner already connected with Kent Social Services or Ravenna’s Center of Hope is eligible: Simply ask staff about pet food. Both sites are administered by Family and Community Services, which uses Madonio Animal Trust funds to provide the pet food on a monthly basis.
Instrumental in getting Doggie Bags up and running were Family and Community Services Grants and Marketing Director Heather Laliberte, FCS Community-Based Programs Director Brian Higgins, FCS Associate Director Anne Face, Center of Hope Program Manager LaJoyce Harris and Kent Social Services Program Manager Marquice Seward.
“What we give out, we track,” Higgins said. “We know how many clients we serve. We know how many dogs we serve. We know how many cats we serve, and then if we need to adjust as we move forward, we will do that.”
With data from February not yet complete, from September 2022 through January 2023, Doggie Bags has helped 124 clients, distributing 78 bags of dog food and 91 bags of cat food, said Erin Madonio Latina, co-administrator of Madonio Animal Trust.
“LaJoyce has been really good about finding additional dog food through the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank they work with,” Latina said. “She’s able to get 50- or 60-pound bags of dog food that are donated, and they’re taking these bags and repackaging them into smaller quantities.”
The word is getting out. Ravenna’s girls basketball team recently spent a volunteer day with Harris, repackaging food and getting it ready for Center of Hope staff to distribute.
“Kent Social Services and the Center of Hope are so grateful to the Madonio family for making this available for our pantry clients,” Harris said. “With this program, they are able to take care of their pets as they would like to.”
Ravenna resident and Doggie Bags recipient Linda, who wished not to reveal her last name, said that because of Doggie Bags, she no longer has to ration her dog’s food.
“I have a dog that eats quite a bit, and this is so helpful. We tried to limit him, because a bag of dog food doesn’t go far. He’s staring at his dish and saying, ‘Where is it?’ He looks at me and says, ‘Did you forget me?’” Linda said.
Ravenna resident Diane Rumsey has two rescue dogs, one of which she inherited from her father when he entered nursing care, and two cats who are also rescues.
“I try to feed my animals the best food I can, and sometimes it’s hard. This helps,” she said. “They gave me a huge bag of Puppy Chow, and I figured it would work. A bag lasts about six months.”
Rumsey also gets Doggie Bags cat food on a regular basis. Prior to the program, she said she had to feed her own food — also provided by the Center of Hope — to her pets.
“I have to do it. They’re like my kids,” she said.
Besides overseeing Doggie Bags, the Madonio Animal Trust helps animal causes in Portage County and surrounding areas, Latina said.
“We donate to the Portage APL, the Portage County Dog Warden, Rose’s Rescue, Tree City Cats and Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary, all of which are no-kill shelters. We also work closely with some of the vets in the area when they need assistance,” she said.
With so many needy animals, the Madonio Animal Trust is hardly a one-person enterprise. Besides Latina, there’s her father, Chas Madonio, who started the organization in 2013; his wife, Nancy; and their sons, Patrick and Andrew. “We’re all pet owners and animal lovers,” Latina said.
If the name Chas Madonio sounds familiar, he’s the same Chas Madonio who wrote the recently published book “Bars, Bands, and Rock & Roll: The Golden Era in Kent Ohio.” All of the proceeds equally benefit the Kent Historical Society, which published the book, and the Madonio Family Trust. Chas is also owner of Brimfield Insurance.
Since Doggie Bags has “really exploded over the past six months,” Latina said she and her family have devoted many of Madonio Animal Trust’s fundraising efforts to the program.
“What we don’t want is people who are facing food insecurity and then they don’t have food for their pets having to give up their pets. If all the difference is being able to feed your pet, then we want to help you feed your pet so you can keep your pet,” she said.
Area residents may be familiar with Madonio Animal Trust’s main fundraiser, Dog Days of Summer, which is held in Kent the third Saturday in August each year.
The Madonio Animal Trust also accepts monetary and other donations year-round: contact Latina at the Madonios’ family business, Brimfield Insurance Agency, at 330-673-4919, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If people want to know how they can contribute to making sure that we’re keeping all of our pets fed and cared for, they can certainly drop off unopened bags or cans of dog or cat food,” Latina said.
Anyone willing to donate unopened bags or cans of cat or dog food is welcome to visit Kent Social Services at 1066 S. Water St. in Kent between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. or the Center of Hope at 1081 W. Main St. in Ravenna between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays (except Tuesdays, when Center of Hope is open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.).
Latina also accepts unopened containers of dog and cat food at Brimfield Insurance Agency at 1204 Tallmadge Road during regular business hours.
To Ravenna resident Linda, people making donations to the Madonio Animal Trust are “earth angels.”
“That’s all I can say. It’s much, much appreciated, and I’m sure everyone that is receiving the dog food is as appreciative as I am,” she said.
Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.