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Old April 12th, 2003, 10:00 PM
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Pillager girl collects pet food for food shelf

PILLAGER, Minn. - An 11-year-old girl who loves animals is doing her part to make sure pets don't go hungry when financially strapped families have to turn to the area food shelf for help.

Sarah Leeman started Precious Pets Parlor Project after her own family was forced to rely on the Pillager Area Food Shelf to make ends meet for a time three years ago after she and her parents, Dave and Carol Leeman, moved to Pillager from Minneapolis.

Dave's Auto Detailing did well the first summer, but business dried up that winter and the family - with four German shepherds - sought help.

As the food shelf didn't have dog food available for needy families, the Leemans resorted to doling out rationed cups of food for the dogs and supplementing their diet with some of the bread they received from the food shelf.

That lean winter left a lasting impression on Sarah, who previously hadn't known what it was like to go without. Last October, Sarah started Precious Pets Parlor Project to help families in need who have pets.

A bright girl who is home-schooled, Sarah runs her project like a nonprofit business. She contacts area businesses and asks for pet food donations, maintaining all her information on a computer accounting program.

Sarah keeps a database of the businesses that have agreed to donate pet food, sending them thank you notes. Her parents help her transport the food to the food shelf.

The extra dog and cat food is stored at the Leeman home until the food shelf needs it. One of her biggest donors is SAVE Foods in Brainerd. Kmart and Pine Shadows also have donated pet food.

Sarah, who has names for every one of her pets, including her 12 fish, two dogs and five cats, said she started the project because she loves animals.

"We were just struggling the first year (in Pillager) and we know what it was like," said Sarah. "I want to work with animals all my life. I just love being around animals and helping animals makes me feel better as a person."

So far Sarah has collected 386 pounds of pet food for the food shelf. Her goal is to collect 1,000 pounds of food. Sarah and her parents deliver about 15 pounds of dog and cat food to the food shelf weekly. The food is given out in 10-cup increments to about 20 Pillager-area families each month.

Although Sarah said she doesn't want to take away from any donations that typically go to area animal shelters, she feels there was a need that wasn't being met. She said as long as animals need food, she'll find donors who are willing to help out.

"I'm hoping it will grow and we can keep food for all the animals, especially at Christmas," said Sarah.
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