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YMCA inspires children to collect goods for animals

POSTED: February 24, 2009 12:28 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Justin Hagert, 5, talks with Taylor Chewning, 7, as the two look over donated items.

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The economic slump is forcing more people to surrender their pets to the Hall County Animal Shelter, but the recession is also shrinking the amount of money available to care for the animals until they’re adopted.

"I think people are being a little more selective about what they donate to," said Gwen Trimmer, community resource director for the Humane Society of Hall County.

"Some of the big donors that have always helped with fundraisers are giving less or saying they can’t give at all. One business that used to give us $1,000 for a certain event could only give $100 this year. That’s a shock to the system."

And people are hesitant to adopt new pets. The average animal is spending more time at the shelter, waiting for a permanent home.

"Our adoptions are down about 10 percent," Trimmer said.

The humane society is also seeing more residents in desperate circumstances. In the past, behavior problems were a major reason people decided to get rid of a pet. Now, some owners are surrendering perfectly good animals because of financial constraints.

"We’re hearing a lot of, ‘I can’t afford to keep them. I lost my job. I lost my home,’" said Trimmer.

Still, there’s no shortage of folks who want to help. While they’re not able to donate as much money, Trimmer said people are still bringing in items needed to operate the shelter, such as pet food, cleaning supplies and old blankets.

And now, hundreds of local students are getting involved in the effort. The Georgia Mountains YMCA, which serves about 1,500 kids in its after-school programs at Gainesville and Hall County schools, is encouraging the children to collect supplies for the animals.

"We have a service project every month, but this is the first time we’ve done anything with the humane society," said Maranda Hoover, one of YMCA’s program directors.

"We decided to do it because we heard they were getting more animals and fewer donations. And then we found out that one of the children in our program had to give up their own family pet."

The students are collecting items such as dog and cat food, pet shampoo, and "gently used" collars, leashes and food bowls, as well as sanitation supplies such as trash bags and old towels.

The "wish list" has enough variety to accommodate almost any income, with items as small as pencils and as big as computers and portable kennels.

Each after-school program is collecting donations on site.

"On Saturday, we’ll take everything over to the humane society, and some of the students from Spout Springs and Oakwood (elementary schools) will volunteer their time at the shelter," said Hoover.

She said the kids gained experience in collecting things for others when they recently did a canned food drive.

"They’re beginning to understand that there are people worse off than they are," she said. "In our service projects, we don’t offer rewards (such as a prize for whoever collects the most items). They have to learn that sometimes you do good things for others without expecting anything in return."

Members of the public can drop off items through Friday at the YMCA or at any of the after-school program sites. Or they can donate directly to the animal shelter on West Ridge Road.

"Our needs are constant," said Trimmer. "No matter how many people donate dog food, we can always use more."



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