Former Obama campaigners are barking up a new tree.
NILES — In a wave of election-inspired community action, a few Girard residents are raising donations to keep pets in financially stretched homes.
Shortly after the 2008 presidential election ended, President-elect Barack Obama asked Americans to volunteer in their neighborhoods to help others.
Three former campaigners from Girard answered his call.
“After the campaign, we became closer, and we knew we were going to be doing things together in the future,” said Tom Smith, a worker at Wheatland Tube in Warren, and an organizer of a pet food drive taking place in Trumbull County through Monday.
He met with fellow volunteers Maureen Hall and Bev Spicer during campaign work for Obama at Spicer’s Girard home. For the better part of four months, they canvassed neighborhoods, made phone calls and worked to spread the word of their candidate. And when the campaign ended, they decided to remain friends.
Aware that in these economically difficult times, pet shelters are seeing a rise in cases of animal neglect, Smith, Hall and Spicer decided to start a food drive. Under Obama’s “Renew America Together” initiative — a compilation of events around the nation to better communities — the three are gathering pet foods to donate to the nonprofit Animal Welfare League.
“We want to do what we can to keep pets with their families so they’re not euthanized or abandoned,” Smith said.
Spicer, who works from her home, said that while other organizers around the country have people in mind for their service projects, the Girard trio “wanted to be a voice for the animals.”
“You hear so much about pets today, whether they’re being abused or abandoned, [and] knowing the animal shelters and dog pounds around here, they’re being slammed by drop-offs,” she added.
So through the week and ending on Obama’s “National Day of Service” on Jan. 19 — the day before his swearing-in as the nation’s 44th president — the three will gather food and monetary donations collected at participating veterinarian’s offices and pet supply stores.
The event will culminate with a collection by volunteers from AWL at the Pet Supplies “Plus” in the Eastwood Mall plaza Saturday through Monday. There, the volunteers will collect the gifts and talk about the organization’s adoptable pets and programs.
Barbara Busko, president of Trumbull County’s AWL, said she was surprised the shelter was chosen by the Girard volunteers. She said she is appreciative of both the local food drive and the dozens of other Obama-inspired projects in the Mahoning Valley.
She said AWL has received 684 calls about neglected animals in 2008 — an approximately 24 percent increase over 2007. So when her organization receives calls from families unable to afford food for their pets, AWL steps in to help. Instead of taking away the animal, they can provide it with food.
“For some people, the only companionship they have is that pet,” she said. “So it hurts when you have to give up a pet that’s like your family.”
Busko said the shelter is always accepting volunteers and donations to offset their assistance expenses.
To donate, residents should visit PetSmart through Monday, or ask their veterinarian’s office if they are accepting donations on AWL’s behalf. For more information about donating, call Spicer at (330) 545-6296.