Jenna Stocker, a clerk at the Pet Supplies Plus in Bloomington, recently started noticing something: Some longtime customers were having difficulties paying for food for their pets.

“A gentleman came in the other day, probably in his mid to late 50s, typical Minnesotan in a Twins sweatshirt. I’ve known him since I started working there four years ago,” said Stocker. “He wanted to know what was on sale. He explained he’d never taken unemployment in his life, and now he’s trying not to run his air conditioning. I said ‘Pick out a few more treats, this one’s on me.’

“It’s hard to see people who a few months ago were on the top of the world with no insecurity, and now, for no fault of their own, having tears in their eyes because he could have treats for his dog.”

The good news: there’s help.

People and Pets Together is a local nonprofit dedicated to surrender prevention, keeping people from having to give up a loved pet. Among their services is a food shelf for pets at 3745 Bloomington Av. S. in Minneapolis.

“We’re seeing people we’ve never seen before,” says Nick Atwood, program director. “That wasn’t the case last year. In previous years we had people who knew about us and would come back and needed help.”

The organization was founded in 2009.

“After the financial crisis in 2008, we kept seeing stories of people who couldn’t financially support their pets, and that was heartbreaking,” said Atwood. “So we decided on providing pet food, and we have a vet subsidy, as well, to provide assistance.”

The nonprofit’s reach has extended beyond its Minneapolis storefront.

“We distribute [pet] food to people food shelves,” said Kate Meador, a People and Pets program director. “Last month I personally delivered 11,000 pounds of food to 15, 20 places, all the way out to Cambridge, Minnetonka, Stillwater, and places in between.”

That’s a fraction of what the nonprofit provides. In 2018, it gave away 81,517 pounds of dog and cat food and 11 tons of cat litter.

On a recent Saturday, people queued up to make their requests at the door of a Bloomington food shelf. (Because of COVID-19 concerns, visitors aren’t permitted inside.) Meador and volunteer Paul Ceplecha handed out bags of pet food.

Ceplecha is one of the many volunteers donating time to keep pets fed.

“We have about 150 volunteers,” said Meador, “but we’ve relied on a handful of very dedicated volunteers during this COVID experience.”

People and Pets Together buys pet food at wholesale rates, and gets donations from groups like PetSmart Charities.

“We get donations from manufacturers,” said Meador, as well as pet food that’s overstocked or “short-dated.” They also get donations from people whose pets have died. “And people will just decide to bring in food to give to others,” she added.

You can make donations of pet food and supplies at the Minneapolis location. (There’s a drop box for off-hours donations.) You also can make financial donations on their website, peopleandpetstogether.org.

“A job loss, a health crisis. The reality is that any of us could end up here,” said Meador

The pets can’t thank you, but their owners will be grateful.