CAMDEN — Owning a pet can be expensive and for some people with limited incomes and on a tight budget, buying food for their furry family members is an ongoing challenge. And for those receiving assistance from food stamps, pet food is not a covered benefit.
But, there is assistance available in the community. The Penobscot Pet Pantry in Camden is ready to help.
The succinct mission statement posted on the organization’s website highlights the compassionate nature of the volunteers about the work they do. “We recognize that aid in feeding pets who belong to families that are experiencing hardship could mean the difference between keeping their pet at home or leaving them at a shelter.”
The organization was founded in 2009 by Andrew East, of Hope, and with his “second in command” Gordy Guist, and a core of volunteers, they distribute food the first Thursday of the month to individuals who need the extra support with the expenses of feeding their pets.
East said that he knew there was a need, especially after being in contact with the local shelters.
He is also driven by his love of animals.
Last month, I contacted Andrew to let him know that I was delaying our interview when my cat, Sabrina, my feline soulmate, was in the final stage of losing her battle with an aggressive form of cancer. I wanted to be by her side and for about a week, was only was leaving the house to run a few necessary errands.
I emailed Andrew after she passed to let him know I was ready to move forward with our meeting.
“We’ve got 16 little graves in our backyard and it’s never easy,” he told me.
The pantry collaborates with organizations in the community to receive food donations including, P.A.W.S. in Camden, the Pope Memorial Animal Shelter in Thomaston, the Waldo County Pet Food Pantry and several of the local veterinarians who share any of their extra food.
East also makes weekly trips to Walmart and Hannaford, who also donate torn bags of food or damaged cans that cannot be sold to the public.
The pantry primarily distributes food for dogs and cats, but also accepts donations of food for rabbits, gerbils, or “whatever.”
According to East, the biggest issue facing the pantry right now is not having enough food to share, but getting the word out to more folks who could benefit from this extra support.
He said that the number of clients the pantry is assisting has been decreasing over the last several months. He feels that there are many more people and pets who would benefit from their support.
“There’s no typical profile of someone who reaches out to the pantry for support. There have been single parents, the elderly and seasonal workers like fishermen, who have incomes that are stronger during certain months of the year,” East said.
But, even with the decline in numbers, the pantry continues to make an impact every month by assisting their regular clients.
In August, the pantry distributed 1,052 pounds of pet food, several cases of canned food and food treats to 26 people, up a bit from July.
For anyone who would like to receive the monthly donations, they need to fill out a confidential application (attached to the story) and mail it to the pantry or stop by the first Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. at the American Legion in Camden on Pearl Street, to hand it in directly.
It is an easy process to apply for assistance.
The pantry does have a few operational guidelines posted on their website at www.penobscotpetpantry.com, mainly that there is a limit of one applicant per household.
East emphasized that the pet pantry is a collective effort of many in the community.
“Without donations and help from the community, we'd have gone by the wayside long ago,” he said.
“The bags we put the food in come from Fresh off the Farm in Rockport and the clips and twist-ties we close the bags with are from Hannaford's and Mid-coast Solid Waste, also in Rockport.”
All of donated food is kept at Dooryard Farm in Camden until it is transported to the Legion Hall the first Thursday of the month so the volunteers can assemble the donation bags.
Besides the donations of canned or dry pet food there is also a need for hamster, bird, or fish food along with kitty litter, bedding, collars, leashes, treats, and toys.
The pantry is also pleased to accept monetary donations and checks can be mailed to the Penobscot Pet Pantry, P.O. Box 2004, Hope, ME, 04847.
“Nothing would get done without the great volunteers who show up month after month to help bag food, schlep it to cars, set up and distribute the food,” he said. “I couldn’t do this without all of you.”
For more information about making a donation, joining the volunteer team or receiving assistance from the pet pantry, call East at 763-4291 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Sarah Shepherd at email@example.com