The Mansfield Police Department is giving a new meaning to the term “serve and protect.”
The MPD has teamed up with Meals on Wheels, joining forces to bring food and do welfare checks on residents — and their pets.
“Assistant Chief Gary Fowler had already been active in Meals on Wheels, and I asked him if I could ride along and help out. We are always trying to get out in to the community and help where we can,” Animal Care and Control Manager Lori Strittmatter said. “This became a great way to check in on the older residents in Mansfield and make sure that both them and their animals were OK and had what they needed.”
The idea came about after Fowler was sent to a recruitment luncheon and it blossomed from there, he said. He said Meals on Wheels has helped his family members over the years and didn’t hesitate to help.
“And by teaming up with other divisions within the police department and city, this approach acts as a force multiplier when addressing the needs of many clients,” he said.
As time went on and they became more familiar with the residents, Strittmatter said they began assisting them with flea medications, food, and driving their animals to the vet for vaccinations and such. They have even helped with grooming as needed.
Both organizations have been working regularly for the past two years in the Meals on Wheels program. They recently added a Wednesday route to the one they will continue to do on Thursdays, and of course they fill in whenever needed. Among those joining Strittmatter are city Volunteer Coordinator Priscilla Sanchez, patrol officers, and staff from criminal investigations, administration, and the animal shelter.
“What better way to connect with our community; without the program many seniors would not have a good meal or food for their pets,” Sanchez said. “Plus sometimes the volunteers are the only people they may see that day. We can be their voice if they need assistance.”
Fowler noted that it is not uncommon for pet owners to sacrifice food from their own plate to make sure their animals have something to eat.
“Whether officially designated or not, our clients’ animals are definitely ‘therapy dogs and cats’ for them, and that is why it is important to provide the additional assistance,” he said.
Volunteers bring food for residents and their pets, and other supplies as needed. They also help mowing lawns, maintenance around the home, painting, and more, including some extra surprises to bring folks cheer during the holiday season.
“This is such an easy way to give back to the community, and the benefits to our clients in need — as well as opening the eyes to us as public servants to a side of the community most often forgotten — is just overwhelming,” Fowler said.
Strittmatter hopes that other communities will follow Mansfield’s lead and combine departments with Meals on Wheels and/or other projects.
“I think anytime you can help someone that needs it, you should, but it also gets you out in your community, getting to know people and it becomes a very positive experience,” she said.
“We love the Meals on Wheels program, I look forward to it every week. You get to bring a little bit of happiness into someone’s life. It’s good for the soul.”