Pictured at the blessing box at Stephanie’s Pet Spa are (l-r) Christi Hauke, Highland County Humane Society Board President; Highland County Humane Society members Sally Hinton and Sarah Roe; and Highland County Humane Society shelter manager Megan Wolf. (Photo by Jayden Wolf)
Pictured at the blessing box at Stephanie’s Pet Spa are (l-r) Christi Hauke, Highland County Humane Society Board President; Highland County Humane Society members Sally Hinton and Sarah Roe; and Highland County Humane Society shelter manager Megan Wolf. (Photo by Jayden Wolf)
Highland County Humane Society and Highland County Dog Pound volunteers recently installed a 24-hour “blessing box” at Stephanie’s Pet Spa in Hillsboro, allowing community members to take or share pet food with one another.

A sign on the blessing box at 536 East North St., Hillsboro invites all to “take what you need, give what you can.” Along with the Humane Society, Dog Pound and Stephanie’s Pet Spa, the blessing box can be supported by any interested members of the community.

Humane Society members Sarah Roe and Sally Hinton said that bags of pet food can be dropped off at the Humane Society or Stephanie’s Pet Spa during their normal business hours, and volunteers will distribute the food into smaller bags to be placed in the blessing box. Ziploc bags of dog food can be found on the top shelf of the box, while cat food is on the bottom shelf, according to Hinton.

Hinton and Roe, along with other volunteers, pick up the donated food and fill the box. Roe said they also “section it into bags” and label the type of food, offering a “variety” to accommodate pets’ different dietary needs.

“We carry it with us, check and make sure everything is filled up and people have a good variety in what they need,” Hinton said. “Some of it’s very expensive. Some of it’s normal dog chow.”

Roe credited “Sally’s vision” in bringing the blessing box to fruition, as Hinton has recruited other volunteers to help ensure the box is kept clean and stocked.

“She reached out,” Roe said. “I’m a member of the Humane Society, and the board is fully engaged in the project. We’re working with Sally to get new boxes. We want to continue to offer resources to community for cats and dogs.”

Hinton, a longtime volunteer at the Humane Society, has also worked with the Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio as they host a food pantry for residents of Rocky Fork Lake. After seeing the need in the community, Hinton organized a pet food pantry to be held several times a year in conjunction with the monthly food pantry event at the Greater Life Assembly Church.

Due to COVID-19, Hinton said that she hasn’t been able to volunteer with the food pantry. However, she’s seen the need to help the community with pet food for years, including distributing food out of her own home.

“I started the food pantry there once a month, and it went over big-time,” she said. “Because of COVID, I have left temporarily. We decided the blessing box would be a good idea.”

Roe added that the response has been tremendous already just for Hinton’s efforts from her own home.

“People were so appreciative,” Roe said. “She could put extra food on Facebook and within an hour it would be gone. A lot of people out there need assistance for pets, and we want to make that a priority.”

Over the years, Hinton said she and others have seen clients choose food for their animals over food for themselves at area food pantries. As Roe said, “No one should have to make that choice,” and Hinton said she’s concerned the pandemic is causing even more financial strain on households.

“People have had their hours cut and not enough money left over to feed their pets,” Hinton said. “They shouldn’t have to worry.”

The blessing box doesn’t require any interaction between individuals, as people can pick up food at any time, day or night. For the safety of all involved, this is a less “hands-on” approach to helping the community, Hinton said.

“It’s a little safer right now with everything going on right now,” Hinton said. “That’s why I went with the blessing box.

“That’s where my heart’s at. My heart’s with the animals. I will help. If I don’t have the food, I will get the people the food.”

Roe and Hinton thanked Stephanie’s Pet Spa for their willingness to host the box as well as allowing donors to drop off food at their business. Roe said the pet grooming business is a good “central location” for people in the county to visit the blessing box at their convenience to obtain food for their cat or dog.

In addition to inviting individuals to use the box, the volunteers encouraged local businesses or anyone interested in the community to consider donating pet food to help make the blessing box a success.

“I’m hoping some businesses will see this and can jump in with a bag of food now and then to help our cause,” Hinton said.

Depending on the response to this project and local interest, the volunteers said they are considering placing another box in the Rocky Fork Lake area.

“We want to let people know this resource is there and to keep looking for ways to help,” Roe said. “If anyone has other ideas to assist the community for animal care, just let us know, and we’ll see how we can help.

“We’re not here to judge — we’re here to help.”