- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

NEW SALEM, Pa. (AP) - Even though Roberta Berger never realized her dream of becoming a veterinarian, she found a way to improve the lives of animals.

The 70-year-old Menallen Township woman climbs out of her SUV every Friday morning at 8 a.m. and drags large plastic bins through the back of the Wal-Mart store outside the city.

She loads 800 pounds of dog and cat food from damaged bags into the bins to be repackaged, then distributed through the Fayette County food bank.

Tom Brownfield, store claims supervisor, said before Berger began this program, the food sometimes was donated to animal shelters, but other times was just thrown away because it couldn’t be sold.

“She does a lot of it on her own because we’re busy with other tasks,” he said. “She’s not young either, so for her to do that is really nice - a lot of younger people wouldn’t do what she does.”

Berger helped to form the program into a group known as the Society for the Care and Feeding of Domesticated Animals, and is working on obtaining its 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

In the meantime, she uses a pink plastic scoop to transfer the dry food from trash cans, where Wal-Mart employees empty the damaged bags, to her containers.

“God willing, I’ll see you next Friday,” she said to Brownfield recently as he helped her roll the containers outside, along with a box full of dented cans of wet food.

From there, Berger travels three miles to the Goodwill Industries facility on Connellsville Street, where employees regularly remanufacture printer ink cartridges and break down computer parts for recycling.

The food is dumped into two pallet-sized containers and slid into a station - this month festively decorated for Easter - where Janie Cook, a 16-year employee, helps repackage cat food into 2-pound boxes and dog food into 20-pound boxes.

“I care about the dogs and cats; I used to have a cat of my own,” said Cook, surrounded by new empty boxes, which are donated directly to Goodwill because of slight imperfections. “I just want to see it go to good use.”

Berger, who has been collecting the food for three years, said she does it to keep pets from being placed in overcrowded shelters where they may have to be put down.

“Everybody has a calling for something,” she said.

A former board member of the Fayette County SPCA, Berger retired eight years ago after 18 years at Westinghouse and work as a real estate agent. She continues to manage four rental properties and tend to some of the animals on her 82-acre farm where she has lived for 32 years.

During her travels as a real estate agent, she kept pet food in her car for when she would run into a situation where people had to choose between feeding themselves and their pets.

“I saw the need, but I never had the full scope of what I could do,” she said.

Berger said she has seen animals who are arbitrarily put to sleep because the shelters are full.

“It makes you want to do this project - you don’t care how tired you are; you don’t care you can’t stay in bed. (The animals) that’s what drives you,” she said.

Elaine Swaney, director of vocational services at the Goodwill facility, commended Berger for helping the three organizations directly impact Uniontown residents while furthering Goodwill’s mission.

“She has certainly made a difference in the life of the community, and she’s given us another avenue to recycle, and recycling is about helping the environment and the community,” Swaney said.

Berger said her ultimate goal would be for the program to expand to other stores and communities.

“I’m sure there can be a lot more food out there, but it’s helping someone,” she said.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/OdoBiC

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com

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