CHICAGO -- Nancy Meyerson struggled to fall asleep for weeks after the pet food pantry she oversees closed because of COVID-19.
"We didn't know how we were going to manage," said Meyerson, board chair of Care for Real, a nonprofit with a pet food pantry in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood.
"I personally have never been terrified for myself," she said. "But the thought of closing down when there were so many people in need kept me awake at night. It kept all of us awake."
Chicago animal shelters and pet food pantries have scrambled to provide enough resources for pet owners as demand has escalated as people have lost their jobs and suffered financial strain during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many pet food pantries in the region have shut down, while others looked to new ways of doing things to stay afloat.
"From the 15th of March to ... the end of May, we registered 600 new households," Meyerson said. "That's almost as many clients as we registered for all of 2019."
Pantries have had to abandon their reliance on volunteers, many of whom have been told to stay at home to adhere to social distancing guidelines and minimize exposure to COVID-19. As a result, fewer workers are picking up more work.
Care for Real, which also provides food and clothes for people, started a pop-up food pantry in Rogers Park because others had shut down in the area, Meyerson said. The added labor meant their pet food pantry had to temporarily close while a smaller number of staffers tried to help more people in need of other essentials.
But during the three months the pet pantry was closed, inquiries poured in about its reopening, Meyerson said.
"We found out that many of the people, particularly seniors, would choose to feed their pets rather than themselves," Meyerson said. "So they would go hungry to provide food for their animals."