Peak Pet Pantry helps feed furry family members in need

January 2, 2015 Updated: January 2, 2015 at 4:15 am
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photo - Darlene Hanley-Gaugler, founder of The Pet Pantry, gives away a free coat to a shivering dog whose owner was in line for pet food on Friday, December 19, 2014. The Pet Pantry is a nonprofit organization that hands out pet food to people who have a difficult time financially feeding their own pets. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette
Darlene Hanley-Gaugler, founder of The Pet Pantry, gives away a free coat to a shivering dog whose owner was in line for pet food on Friday, December 19, 2014. The Pet Pantry is a nonprofit organization that hands out pet food to people who have a difficult time financially feeding their own pets. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette 

Jody Cimino calls Mickee, Kitty and Angel her kids, even though they're furry.

But the kids in this family - her dog and two cats - live on one disability check. And that check must also cover the needs of Cimino and her husband.

So in lean months, she stops by the Peak Pet Pantry.

A small nonprofit created in 2007, the organization offers free food to people in need for almost any type of pet - a service meant to help people keep their pets rather than give them up during tough financial times.

To Cimino, it is nothing short of a lifeline for her four-legged companions.

"This helps so much," Cimino said. "It does my animals good - they don't complain."

For years, the pantry operated out of the back of two cars parked at Astrozon Boulevard and Chelton Road or at the Marian House Soup Kitchen. More recently, the nonprofit used a donated van to haul and store its food.

But 2014 brought mixed fortunes for the Peak Pet Pantry. Early in the year, the organization stopped handing out food off B Street and at the Marian House - one of the most concentrated areas of need in the city - due to a lack of volunteers.

Yet it also received permission to use a storage unit at SecurCare Self Storage, 4729 Astrozon Blvd., for free. There, the nonprofit offers one-hour food distributions beginning at 1 p.m. Fridays - events that typically draw 20 to 40 people a week.

In December, Peak Pet Pantry received 3,125 pounds of cat food and 2,500 pounds of dog food from the annual Holiday Kibble Drop, hosted in part by TV personality and comedian Ellen DeGeneres' pet food company, Halo, Purely for Pets.

Next, the nonprofit wants to raise money for its own storefront to store and serve food. All of it will be used to help keep people from giving their pets away when the money runs dry.

"Oftentimes the one who suffers the most in a situation like that will be the pet," said Susan Kosa, who helps run the nonprofit. "This way, they don't have to give away their dog or their cat to the Humane Society because 'I can't feed it this month.'"

Recently, at least a dozen people left with bags of food in hand, sometimes while cradling their dogs. Jessica Mardis held her Papillon, Bandit, who wore a new sweater from the pantry after she'd been seen shivering in the brisk, winter air.

"Your animals are like your children. You don't just throw your animals away, you don't get rid of them just because," Mardis said.

"You suffer, you sacrifice, do you what you can to make it," she said.

But for some people, the decision comes uncomfortably close between getting food for themselves and food for their pets.

On her way to receiving a few bags of dog kibble, a few cans of cat food and some Christmas toys for Mickee, Kitty and Angel, Cimino smiled.

"It's just a huge, huge blessing," Cimino said.

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