Launched just over a month ago, and open to the public just three days a week, a pantry for pet food and supplies in East Brunswick has already seen a steady flow of local pet owners who need a little help handling the finances associated with keeping their animals alive and healthy.

"If you look at the big picture, what we don't want is people surrendering their animals, because that's the first thing they're going to cut, and it has happened," said Regina Sweeney, a manager with New Beginnings Animal Rescue.

Thanks to donations, the food bank, located alongside Nativity Lutheran Church, can typically supply clients with a week-long "supplement of food."

HOURS OF OPERATION: Tuesday and Friday, 1 to 3:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Clients fill out a form with their information, and have the option to bring back the same bag each week, Sweeney said.

Pet food pantries, many of which are volunteer-run, have become a more common offering throughout the Garden State. For those struggling to stay above water financially, a portion of the weekly pet-food haul may have to take a back seat.

The Monmouth County SPCA launched its Pet Pantry in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Staff soon learned that pet-care affordability wasn't only an emergency concern, and the pantry still runs on Wednesdays and Fridays from 12 to 4 p.m. at 260 Wall St. in Eatontown.

"It's on an application basis and it's on a review basis," said executive director Ross Licitra. "It's not just a free-for-all."

Clients, he said, are offered good based on their level of need, including the number of pets owned.

Licitra said the SPCA has noticed a decrease in the amount of clients asking for the pantry's help. He's hoping that means more residents are better off financially.

The SPCA in Passaic County launched a food pantry at its Hawthorne headquarters in the spring. It can be accessed on the first Saturday of each month, from 1 to 4 p.m., and the second Monday from 7 to 8 p.m.

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