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JACKSONVILLE,Fla. --Nika Williams, 24, earns less than $15,000 a year, andloves her pets.

Williams said given her small income, the decision of when to buy pet food for her four pets gets difficult.

"It does get expensive," she said.

So she buys the cheapest food she can find and the smallest bags; the tight economy has placed many pet owners in a similar position.

"The need is great. Everyday, animals get turned in to our local shelters because people can't take care of their pets anymore, let alone their children," said Diane Wiles.

Wiles is with First Coast No More Homeless pets and said in 2010, they saw an increase in cases where pet owners gave up their pets.

"A lot of people were surrendering their pets because they couldn't feed them anymore," said Wiles.

It is a nationwide crisis. InNew York, a nonprofit started the National Pet Food Stamps program, available to anyone in the U.S.

In Jacksonville, the Pet Food Bank was created to meet the needs of Duval County.

"We give out anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of food to hundreds of pets in need, every month," said Wiles.

The demand is so high, as fast as the Pet Food bank gets donations, the food is given away to those who are eligible.

Ifyou receivepublic assistance or SSI or in those income brackets you will most likely qualify for the free pet food.

"The economy really hit everybody hard," said Wiles, "We don't want to seepets being turn into local shelters where they might be euthanize because you can't feed them."

Both the Pet Food Bank and the national Pet Food Stamps programs are driven by donations. Neither one involves the use of taxpayers dollars.

Williams is now getting help from the Pet Food Bank and has seen the difference in her budget.

"My dogs get good quality food for free," she said, "stuff that I can't purchase from over the counter."

The Pet Food stamps program isan internet service and takes up to six weeks to get approval. Duval County residents cancontactFirst CoastNo More Homeless Pets if they need help.

The next Pet Food Bank giveaway is June 8 at the office located at6817 Norwood Avenue, Jacksonville.

To applyfor Pet Food Stamps click on the link below:

https://petfoodstamps.org/Pet_Food_Stamps_Application.html

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