MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — In an effort to help local animal shelters, Meceola Consolidated Central Dispatch Dispatcher Renee Machleit and her feline friend, Chief, are hosting their first-ever animal donation drive.

Donating to area families during the holidays, the dispatch center hosts one family as a way to give back to the community.

"At Christmastime, we try to pick up a family and decided to use Chief to help our shelters out. He's a good reason to help," Machleit said.

Chief was a stray kitten that Machleit and her colleagues found outside the dispatch center in October, after hearing mysterious meows for several days. Once they caught him, he was dubbed the center's latest mascot, though that almost wasn't the case.

"When we first caught him, we were seriously going to take him to the shelter," Machleit said. "We didn't know if we were going to keep him or be able to keep him."

Once it was decided the kitten could stay, Machleit said she began thinking of all the other four-legged friends who weren't as lucky to have found homes, and created an animal donation drive in honor of Chief.

"We deal with both shelters quite a bit through here," Machleit said. "So, it's going to be awesome to help them out."

While Machleit hoped to helped both the Osceola and Mecosta County Animal Shelters, she didn't expect the cause to get as big as it did.

"I just thought people would just drop some stuff off," she said. "I certainly didn't expect Gib's in Evart to get a box going at the door."

According to Gib's Super City owner Michelle McCord, Gib's always had a donation box at their door for customers to donate goods to the Osceola Animal Shelter. However, hearing about Machleit's cause, they decided to open donate their box to the dispatch center, where the items will be dispersed between both the Osceola and Mecosta Animal Shelters.

"I think the drive is fantastic," McCord said. "Both the animal shelters need supplies no matter what time of year, but being Christmastime and winter, I know they get a lot more people who drop off cats this time of year, and I know they can be overcrowded."

Those interested in donating may bring anything from food to litter, to new blankets, towels or beds. From there, Machleit said a volunteer from the center will pick up the donations once a month.

Donations also may be dropped off at central dispatch, at 20701 Northland Dr., Paris.

"There are a lot of animals in the shelter that need homes," Machleit said. "I know the shelter is always asking for simple things like towels and blankets — not necessarily just the food.

"I don't think around Christmastime, when everyone's adopting families and helping out kids, shelters, I don't think, get a whole lot of notice."

With the donation drive ending Jan. 1, Meceola Consolidated Central Dispatch Director Megan Erickson said she's hoping to fill up a whole room with donations for the shelters.

"We know this time of year is pretty strapping for everybody, but it's also the season of giving," Erickson said. "I think in everybody's heart, everyone wants to do the right thing and help somebody out, so we're here and happy to assist.

"Animals are in need too."

In light of the season of giving, Erickson said she is fortunate to have the staff she does when it comes to Meceola Consolidated Central Dispatch.

"I give them a ton of kudos (for starting this initiative)," Erickson said. "They're in this business because they want to do the right thing, and they want to help people, and it's not only people but animals as well.

"We're very fortunate to have people like them in our community who are willing to do things. Not just their job, but these kind of outside activities that go above and beyond what they have to do on a daily basis. It just shows what good people they are. We're very fortunate to have them."

Those interested in donating may contact Erickson at 231-796-4811 or follow Chief at "Chief of Meceola 911" on Facebook.