By Maria Menounos, NBC News contributing correspondent
When 9-year-old Zach Wilson and his mom, Erica, went to the local shelter earlier this year to adopt a second pet, he discovered, what seemed to be, an inordinate number of animals. Zach astutely inquired as to why the shelter was so overcrowded. He was told that more and more people are turning in their pets today because they can no longer afford to care for them. The nation's devastating economy has been just as horrific to Zach's home state of Florida. The state had almost 53,000 new home foreclosures just last month - the second highest rate of foreclosure in the country. The reality deeply affected Zach.
For some, losing a pet would not only serve as a greater sense of failure and shortcoming but also mean losing a best friend. In other cases, it would mean losing the last thing in the world. Zach considers his own dog, Brandi, to be a fellow member of the family. His mom Erica considers Brandi a second daughter. As a pet owner myself, I fully concur and convey their sentiments, as do, no doubt, millions of other pet guardians. However, to be so sensitive at the ripe age of nine is remarkable. To act upon those sentiments, at any age, is downright extraordinary. Act is just what Zach did.
Knowing how devastating it would be if his family were forced to surrender Brandi due to economic hardships, Zach started a pet food pantry out of his garage. Every week people who needed assistance feeding their pets could, and would, come to get supplies. In just a few short months, the program grew. Today, they operate from a donated space at a local strip mall. Zach, of course, picked all the colors for the walls, taking great care to insure that the environment emoted happiness.
Because of Zach, many people in suburban Orlando are able to brave the harshness of this economy aided by the warm and unconditional love of their companion animals. But Zach's plans don't end there.
Having a sister with autism and cerebral palsy, Zach's also sensitive to the needs of the disabled. Subsequently, he wants to build an animal sanctuary for disabled and elderly pets – a cause to which I can also relate. I had a quadriplegic poodle, Noelle, whom I adopted for 25 dollars 7 Christmases ago. Her life and our memories with her continue to bless my family.
And though I would love to write on about Noelle, the many blessings companion animals convey upon us and even the promotion of pet adoptions this holiday season, I am far more compelled to extol the actions of a 9-year-old boy. Zach Wilson is not just helping animals. In reality, he's helping the people of his community. These people, many of whom are on their last legs having experienced heartache over umpteen other losses and setbacks, are able to keep their pets at a time when they need them most. More than anything, though, Zach's greatest gift is the example he has set. He saw people hurting. The hurt affected him and he chose to do something about it. In the end, a 9-year-old boy with limited resources was able to tackle a large problem and succeed in helping others.
Often, we are overwhelmed when presented with problems affecting fellow human beings. Most of us DO feel bad but in enacting solutions or in providing relief, many of us feel that we don't even know where to begin. But if a 9-year-old boy could figure it out, maybe we can, too.
If you would like to donate to Zach's pantry you can go to their Web site:
Central Florida Animal Pantry
Photo captions: (top photo) Zach Wilson and his mother, Erica, play with their dog Brandi at home.
(bottom photo) (l-r) Erica Wilson, Zach Wilson, producer Victor Limjoco, and correspondent Maria Menounos in the Central Florida Animal Pantry.