South Jersey philanthropist funds Rowan University pet therapy program

South Jersey philanthropist funds Rowan University pet therapy program

Gerald Shreiber with Teddy
Gerald Shreiber with Teddy

Gerald Shreiber believes in the power of pets.

He especially believes in the therapeutic qualities of dogs and their calming, unconditional love, which, for many people, can reduce anxiety, increase confidence and help lower blood pressure.

And, because the philanthropist, a proud supporter of Rowan University, believes students can benefit greatly from time spent with dogs, Shreiber, president and CEO of J&J Snack Foods Corp. of Pennsauken, this week committed $3 million to establish The Shreiber Family Pet Therapy Program of Rowan University.

“It is a pleasure for me to give back to the community,” Shreiber said. “I can think of nothing better than (to support) our students, striving for education, complemented by therapy dogs.”

Shreiber’s gift will establish an endowment to create a self-sustaining program bringing certified therapy dogs to Rowan’s Glassboro campus.

“This gift will ensure our continued ability to deliver resources to enhance the health and well-being of our students and the entire Rowan community,” said Rowan President Ali Houshmand.  “We thank Mr. Shreiber for his generosity, his ongoing support of the University and his commitment to our students’ well-being.”

Schools becoming fur friendly

Although college is often exciting and engaging, it can trigger feelings of homesickness, upheaval and stress.

For years, colleges and universities across the U.S., seeking to bolster conventional mental health resources, have included therapy dogs as alternative treatment, often to great success.

Over the past three years, Rowan’s Wellness Center in Winans Hall has offered “Paws for a Break,” a program that enables students to interact with certified therapy dogs, and it’s become one of its most popular outreach efforts.

Starting in September, the Shreiber Family Pet Therapy Program of Rowan University will expand that effort with a 744-square-foot home in Winans, a full-time coordinator and five certified therapy dogs.

“They’ll be available to students being seen in the Wellness Center as well as through programs across campus, such as those that support veterans, students with disabilities, students on the autism spectrum, even student athletes and medical students who experience periods of high levels of stress,” said Vice President for Health & Wellness David Rubenstein. “This initiative reflects the emphasis Rowan places on well-being and we’re excited about the tremendous source of comfort and calm we expect it to bring.”

Humble beginnings

Shreiber in 2014 established the Gerald B. Shreiber Scholarship to support entrepreneurship students in Rowan’s William G. Rohrer College of Business and, to date, has contributed $300,000, from which 30 students have received financial awards.

But he wasn’t raised in wealth.

Born in Bridgeton, he grew up in Atlantic City, began his career as a machine shop trainee and eventually moved into production and sales management.

In 1970, Shreiber started a specialty machine parts firm and, in 1971, he bought a bankrupt soft pretzel company with eight employees and $400,000 in annual sales. That company, which today is J&J Snack Foods, has more than 4,000 employees and more than $1 billion in annual sales with such leading brands as SUPERPRETZEL, ICEE, Luigi’s and Minute Maid.

One of the consummate niche players in the multi-billion-dollar snack food and beverage industry, J&J Snack Foods has been recognized seven times by the Forbes list of 200 Best Small Companies.

An active philanthropist and animal lover, Shreiber has received many awards, including the Gold Heart Award from the Philadelphia Chapter of the Variety Club and the South Jersey Humanitarian of the Year by the Animal Adoption Center.

The Shreiber Animal Foundation Enterprise (SAFE) made a transformational gift to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to establish a pet therapy program and the foundation funded a pet therapy program at Virtua Hospital.

Shreiber has served on the board of directors of the Jewish Community Center of Atlantic County as well as the Federation of Jewish Charities and has supported a host of charities including the ALS Association, the Golden Slipper Camp, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and United Way.