For pet owners, feeling a cold, wet nose or seeing a tail speed back and forth can mean the difference between a bad day and a good one.
Thirteen-year-old Jordyn Cascone knows this as well as anyone else. The Hamilton resident and Crockett Middle School eighth-grader has had dogs for most of her life, but she has also been able to experience firsthand how pets can impact the lives of those who are homebound.
As part of the requirements for her Girl Scout Silver Award—the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive, usually achieved in middle school—she has dedicated the last year to partnering with Meals on Wheels of Trenton/Ewing through her own organization, Jordyn’s Cause 4 Paws.
Through monetary, food and treat donations, Cascone provides weekly rations for 28 pets between 22 Meals on Wheels recipients. She serves cats, dogs and even a fish.
Cascone came up with the idea after reading a newspaper article about local homebound residents using a portion of—or sometimes all of—their food from Meals on Wheels to feed their pets. It wasn’t an ideal situation for either party.
“The pets aren’t getting the right nutrition, and [the people] are not getting enough nutrition themselves,” she said.
It’s an issue that plagued MOWTE, said executive director Sasa Montaño.
“We had kind of an informal pet food program,” she said. “When I say informal, we had one or two pet lovers who would buy pet food occasionally and drop it off. When the food bank got pet food donations, they’d give it to us.”
So when Cascone approached Montaño with her idea, it was a blessing. Now, the organization would have a dedicated volunteer collecting donations for a steady, consistent stream of food.
Cascone’s inolvement also allowed MOWTE to apply for a $2,500 grant through Meals on Wheels funded by Banfield Charitable Trust. It received the grant in September, which allowed Cascone to purchase larger quantities and specialty foods that she couldn’t afford through donations.
Montaño was struck at first by Cascone’s age, naturally.
“Usually at that age, you’re not thinking about older people,” she said. “I was struck by her insight into the difference that pets can make in older people or homebound people. When she came to me with this idea, not only was I struck by her age and desire, but on our end, it was a chance to partner with a young person and formalize our pet food program.”
To get started, Cascone wrote up surveys for Meals on Wheels recipients in Trenton and Ewing to find out basic information, like what kind of animals they had and the type of food they required.
Donations from friends, family and local businesses like Lawrence’s Pets Plus helped her purchase food, as did fundraisers at Crockett, Texas Roadhouse and, coming up on May 17, at Pets Plus. She brings the food and treats to MOWTE each week, and volunteers deliver it to recipients.
Cascone said she spends about an hour a week getting packages ready, but her father, Pete Cascone, said she’s selling herself short. Shopping for food, delivering it to the organization and her financial responsibilities all take time out of her week, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“These are all things she does on her own,” he said. “She journals everything that comes in. She has a bank account she’s taking care of.”
Pete Cascone and his wife Eileen help their daughter with ideas for fundraisers, but other than that, it’s all her. She can handle it because of her organization skills, Eileen said.
Cascone has to keep track of food brands and types—an abrupt change in diet can mean the difference between an ill pet and a healthy pet. She even serves a cat with allergies.
“Some of them say that [the type of food] doesn’t really matter, so I changed them to a food that I had a lot of,” Cascone said. “Then they can get the same food each week so the dogs and cats don’t get sick.”
She also knows how important treats are to her dogs, Jake and Bella, so she is sure to include them in every meal. She even wrapped up toys donated by Pets Plus for each animal and gave them as gifts for the holidays. One client reported that the toy Cascone gave was the only one her dog would play with.
Cascone hasn’t gone on a food run yet, but she might get the opportunity later this month, when PBS films her for a news spot. She has received thank you notes, though.
“They just say that we’re helping so much and that the pets enjoy it,” she said.
The program only serves Trenton and Ewing for now, though Cascone has reached out to other towns in the area. Eventually, she hopes to see it eveolve into a statewide affair.
Regardless of how much it grows, though, Cascone’s parents remain impressed with her dedication to the cause, especially at such a young age. And as pet owners, they know how important that dedication is to the recipients.
“Just to care about seniors and disabled people who are homebound, just caring that they have somebody to share their life with is great,” Eileen Cascone said. “Some of them don’t even have families. This is their little buddy. I know how are dogs are to us, and we all have each other.”
Montaño said the entire program “is a win/win” for everybody involved.
“It is very refreshing to be able to create a partnership with no downside,” she said. “The focus here is getting pet food to people that have pets, but it’s also teaching Jordyn leadership skills at a very young age. It’s getting her involved with volunteering and how you as a single person can make a difference in sombody’s life. It speak to the beauty of partnerships.”
The next Jordyn’s Cause 4 Paws fundraiser will be held on May 17 at Pets Plus, 111 Lawrence Road, Lawrenceville, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be a $5 car wash and raffle. Additionally, the store will donate 10 percent of all purchases to the cause. For more information, visit jordynscause4paws.org.