This story is part of The Sacramento Bee’s Unsung Heroes series. Every week, we’re celebrating community members in our region who are keeping society running during the coronavirus crisis. Know an Unsung Hero who deserves attention? Nominate them in the form at the bottom of the article.
The coronavirus pandemic and statewide lockdown in its wake has dislodged lives and livelihoods across California and here in Sacramento.
These are especially anxious times for those experiencing food insecurity, who are isolated seniors or who have lost a job to the virus. Add pets to that equation and their options become more stark.
“So many will go without food themselves to feed their animals,” Kenn Altine said. “How do we stop people from having to make that choice?”
Altine, CEO of Sacramento SPCA, and his people rushed to find a solution. In March, they opened Paw Pantry. The drive-through emergency pet food bank at the organization’s headquarters at 6201 Florin Perkins Road has quickly become an answer for hundreds of people and their animal companions in and out of Sacramento County now suddenly in need.
“It’s about what animals and people need, not where people are from. Need doesn’t end at the county or the state line,” Altine said. “Cat, dog, no matter what the size, pop the trunk.”
Twice a week, two hours a day, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, the pantry caters to carloads – 2,603 bags of pet food passed out to 863 families in its first eight days of operation alone, by the SPCA’s count.
“On its face, it seems like ‘Of course you’re doing this,’” Altine said in a recent interview. The SPCA takes in surrendered animals; has a robust adoption program and works with rescue groups.
But the lockdown forced the SPCA to close for a time. It was time, Altine said, to figure out how else the SPCA could help.
“Let’s stop worrying about what we can’t do and focus on what we can do,” he said. “Can we give some food? What does that look like? How can we do that in a meaningful way?”
They talked with local food banks about whether emergency pet food supplies were available but it became clear that they needed to be the ones to take it on.
“We said, ‘We need to own that,’ and drive-through was the way everyone was going,” Altine said.
SPCA’s south county office at 6201 Florin Perkins Road is miles from the central city. Eighty cars came out that first day on the strength of a single Facebook post.
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“People helping people,” Altine described it. “People were showing up with orders for their families. They were especially concerned for seniors” who couldn’t leave their homes.
“Many don’t see it up close. People are pulling up to pick up a pack of food, and they’ll give back $1, $2. They’re doing the simple things to help each other. It’s meaningful to that person and it’s meaningful to us.”
The weeks since the pantry’s opening day, the SPCA has been busily seeking cash donations and working deals to buy food from stores in bulk at a discount.
“We’re looking for someone who can donate a pallet – or cash for a pallet,” he said. “The best way to buy is in bulk.”
The supplies and support have added up, Altine said.
“Ten thousand pounds – that’s five tons of food,” he said. “We know it’s making a difference for the community.”
It’s making a difference to those on the giving end, too, the staff and volunteers making the pantry go.
“The staff are saying, ‘Can I do it next week? It’s very heartwarming,” Altine said.
“Our favorite part is that they tell us about their animals. It’s very rewarding for us. It reconnects us to why we do it,” Altine said. “We do it for the animals and their people. There’s someone still there for the animals.”