To Merle Kenny, Lucky, Red, Ginger, Stubby, Mister and Mooch aren't just cats: "They're my reason for getting up in the morning." But on a senior's budget, the 74-year-old Long Beach, Calif., widow was having trouble affording their upkeep. "For birthday or Christmas presents," she says, "I'd ask for cat food."

Now Christmas comes all year, thanks to Coral Allenby and her staff at the Volunteers of America. As part of its companion-pet program, the group delivers cat food—as well as litter, flea-control products and vouchers for veterinary care—to Kenny's door. "A lot of these people don't have family," says Allenby, 41. "Their pet is their only companion."

The service began in 1995, when VOA's delivery drivers for the Senior Nutrition program noticed that some seniors were setting aside part of each hot meal they received to give to their dogs or cats. "That messes with the nutrition not only for the senior but also for the pet," says Allenby. With donations from manufacturers, the group now delivers pet food to almost 200 low-income pet owners who are over the age of 60, feeding about 500 cats and dogs. And the response, says Allenby, has been moving for seniors and volunteers alike. "One woman who had a rottweiler mix and a kitten was buying bread and milk to feed both of them," says Allenby. "The first time I stopped by, she just had tears in her eyes. I ended up the same way."