AniMeals founder Karyn Moltzen was mortified last week when she learned someone had raided aluminum cans from seven of the nonprofit's 15 recycling-collection stations in Missoula. She ticks off a list that includes some of AniMeals' most successful sites: St. Francis Church, Rosauers, even the nonprofit's headquarters off Broadway. The thieves made off with about 250 pounds of materials worth about $150 at Allied Waste, Moltzen says, adding, "Every penny counts when you're trying to save lives like this...It's so disheartening."
AniMeals hosts a no-kill cat shelter in Missoula and supplies food to rescue shelters and impoverished pet owners across the state. Collecting recyclables contributed $15,000 to its budget last year.
AniMeals' 2009 income taxes list revenues of $192,458 and expenses of $188,912. Moltzen says her operating budget last year was around $225,000. Revenue from the recycling initiative only recently began to offset the costs of collection. Continued losses could prompt AniMeals to reexamine the initiative's feasibility, Moltzen says. "We may have to shut the program down. Half of our buildings got hit. Do I put up more?"
Allied Waste general manager Max Bower recognizes Moltzen's frustration. Transients have raided the company's collection boxes for years, Bowers says. Prices are so high now, he says, that "people are just out stealing everything"—copper wire, brass plates from gravestones. Allied employees are trained to spot potentially stolen recyclables, he says, but with aluminum, "you just don't know."
Bower was surprised, however, to hear of people stealing what equates to nonprofit donations.
"This theft thing's been going on forever, but you'd expect people to have some decency and not steal from AniMeals," he says. "We're a big company. They rip us off for a little aluminum, that's part of doing business. But AniMeals is a whole different story."
The only solution Moltzen sees is to ask aluminum can donors to rip open their bags and dump loose cans into the collection boxes. AniMeals staff will then shovel the cans into their own bags. Hopefully that will deter thieves, she says, but she can't be sure.
"It's got to pay for itself," she adds. "There's no point in doing it if we can't buy [pet] food."