Lynn Molnar's conversations with fellow dog owners during her frequent visits to Bel Air's Ma & Pa Dog Park planted the seed that eventually resulted in Thankful Paws, a nonprofit pet food bank that travels the area delivering food for pets in need.
Since the organization was founded in 2011, donors, volunteers and sponsors have helped provide 50 tons of pet food, focusing primarily on serving the pets of financially needy seniors, veterans and the homeless.
While humans have avenues for assistance when financial times are tough, pets don't always have a safety net, Molnar says.
"It's so heartbreaking if you have to give up your pet," she says. "A lot of people think it's a luxury: Why do you need a pet? This pet is your life. They've lost everything. They need this pet in order to survive. The bond between pet and owner is as vital as the air we breathe."
Thankful Paws relies on a network of about 20 volunteers in Harford, Cecil, Baltimore and Howard counties who store and deliver food and other donated goods. Requested items include dog and cat food, toys, towels, blankets, cat litter, collars, leashes, pet shampoo and medicines for fleas, ticks and de-worming. The PetValu stores in Abingdon and Aberdeen are among Thankful Paws' donation sites.
Financial donations are on the top of Thankful Paws' wish list, Molnar says, as the organization is saving to purchase a delivery van and, eventually, establish a physical headquarters. Molnar also is seeking volunteers with marketing and fundraising talent.
Thankful Paws' annual fundraiser will take place June 7 at The Johns Hopkins Club on the Homewood campus in Baltimore. The event will include a luncheon buffet, entertainment, games and more.
Although Molnar, 42, and her golden retriever, Hero, have since moved to White Marsh, they're still regulars at Ma & Pa Dog Park, where Molnar spearheaded fundraising to have lighting installed.
Molnar's broader mission, she says, is to provide hope for pet owners. "It's a bag of dog food, but it means so much more," she says. "It's a bag of hope."
For information about donation sites, as well as tickets to the June 7 fundraiser, go to thankfulpaws.org.