New Jersey’s Only “Pet Pantry” and Its Miraculous Expansion

EATONTOWN, NEW JERSEY – The Monmouth County SPCA is currently fighting for pets in a new way – by giving their Pet Pantry its own building in Monmouth County.

Ken McKeel, manager of the Monmouth County SPCA’s Pet Pantry, with Lucky, a 1-year-old, male pit bull mix. Photo: Joseph Sapia
Ken McKeel, manager of the Monmouth County SPCA’s Pet Pantry, with Lucky, a 1-year-old, male pit bull mix. Photo: Joseph Sapia

This is the first of any of this type of specialty food bank.

The Pet Pantry is part of the SPCA’s attempt to assist families in taking care of their pets by subsidizing spay and neuter procedures, vaccinations or microchip implants, allowing lost pets to be returned to their families instead of being categorized as. The Pet Pantry also helps with food and varuous other supplies assistance, along with educating families about pet responsibility.

“We want people to succeed as responsible pet owners, and we help them by giving them whatever assistance they need. Our main goal is to prevent surrenders,” stated SPCA Community Liaison Isa Fowler, who has been with the nonprofit for 8 years.

The Pet Pantry’s mission through their campaign known as The Pet Pantry Project was originally designed to give relief to families affected by Super Storm Sandy, who struggled with financing the needs of both the humans and furry friends in their families. The volunteers, including Ken McKeel, the transport coordinator and manager of the Pet Pantry, began their journey by going door-to-door for weeks and weeks, distributing pet food and supplies to families in need.

“It was then that the administration saw a need to make this a bigger and more permanent service to the community,” said McKeel.

In its beginning stages of the project, the pantry reached out to organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who, along with pet food companies, made large food donations to the Pantry that allowed its shape to form in the Monmouth community. Currently, The Pet Pantry relies fully on community members to donate, along with a few companies that continue to offer financial support. The Pet Pantry accepts dry and wet food for dogs and cats. They also accept cat litter, litter scoops, and other miscellaneous accessories like leashes. The funds that are raised through this cause help to purchase food for those who need it, as well as spay and neuter procedures for pets whose families qualify for subsidized assistance by the pantry.

The pantry is supported by donations which come from the Monmouth County community, and was originally located in the Maureen O’Brien Thrift Store at the Eatontown Shelter. In that small space, the pantry still managed to assist well over 1,000 families. Now even more in need have somewhere to turn, due to the brand new Pet Pantry Building.

For the past three years, the Pet Pantry Project has helped more than 1,200 families, 8,000 dogs and cats, and donated almost 200,000 pounds of food, according to Fowler.

“I want to keep families together, and keep as many animals in their homes as possible,” she said. “Financial wealth, or lack thereof, does not determine a family’s ability to provide a loving home for animals. It’s the commitment that the family has that is the key. Anyone who has that commitment will receive our help.”

“I think the mission statement for the pantry is simple, and that is not to let any animal go hungry and to never make people choose between feeding themselves or feeding their furry kids, or be forced to surrender their animals to a shelter because they have fallen on hard times,” McKeel said.

Janice Marshall of Wall Township is one of the 400 to 500 families the Pet Pantry helps each and every year. Marshall owned two dogs when she first received assistance from the Pet Pantry, and she had nowhere to live. She received leashes, food, and also health care for her pets through the Pet Pantry Project. The Pet Pantry worked with Marshall to ensure that she would be able to fully fund her dogs’ health care.

“Without them, I’d be lost. They have always been there for me,” she said. “I love my animals, they’re my life. The Pet Pantry gives me food for them that lasts the whole month. I just wish I knew of this years ago,” Marshall said.

The Monmouth County SPCA’S Pet Pantry in Eatontown. The pantry supplies dog and cat supplies to families in need. Photo: Joseph Sapia
The Monmouth County SPCA’S Pet Pantry in Eatontown. The pantry supplies dog and cat supplies to families in need. Photo: Joseph Sapia

Pet Pantry volunteer Karen Mitchell believes the nonprofit, along with its larger SPCA branch, does nothing but good for the Monmouth Community. Mitchell, of Old Bridge, has been working with the SPCA for almost six years.

“The Pet Pantry makes the difference between surrendering a pet, or being able to feed it. It’s been an awesome experience to see pets kept out of shelters simply by providing them food. A lot of people have come in here, saying nothing but thank you,” Mitchell said.

McKeel now has future plans for the pantry that include being able to assist any family in any county that is in a difficult financial situation that causes them to surrender their pets. On April 30, the Monmouth County SPCA will host its annual charity dog walk to be held at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, where more than 2,000 people along with their furry friends support the SPCA and enjoy vendors, food trucks, and live music.

To donate or contribute to the Pet Pantry Project or the Monmouth County SPCA, visit monmouthcountyspca.org/services/pet-pantry-project, or if you prefer, call the Developmental Department at 732-440-1543. To qualify for assistance by The Pet Pantry, one must present proof of spay/neuter of your pet, proof of income, and a valid photo ID. The Pet Pantry is currently open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and 9 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. Wednesday.

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