As Tabitha Custer recounts how she has witnessed people sobbing because they don’t have money to buy food for their pets and must give them up, a knock comes on the steel, windowless door.
“I think they’re closed,” a woman says, but she knocks again.
Custer opens the door to Sherrie Chavis of Surfside Beach, whom she recognizes, and welcomes her then rushes to pile a push cart with cases of dog food and dog treats. The amount of food given, she said, depends on the weight of the animal.
“If we can give a month’s supply, we do it,” Custer says and adds that if pet owners mix one can of wet food with a can of dry food, the supply will last longer.
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“My son had his leg amputated,” Sherrie explains, adding that he was in a motorcycle accident. “His dog has to have food to eat.” She sighs with relief. “[Keep Our Pets Food Bank] is helping us through these hard times.”
Her son, Jeff Chavis, 34, explains further that three months ago he got his bassett hound, 4-year-old Bruiser, on craigslist.com. “He hangs around me,” Jeff said. “He’s my buddy.”
“This dog has helped him a lot,” Sherrie says. “I’m amazed at the difference it makes for a person to have an animal.”
Keep Our Pets Food Bank is the brain child of Custer’s late mother, Linda Donahue. Custer said that as adoption coordinator at Coastal Animal Rescue in Murrells Inlet, her mom saw a need for the nonprofit organization and founded it in January 2012. Donahue passed away from cancer Aug. 30, 2012, but her husband, William Donahue, son, Stephen Donahue, and Custer decided to continue the work she had started.
The food bank provides food, treats, leashes, collars, and other cat and dog needs to low income families once each month if their pets are spayed or neutered. Clients complete an application and must prove need and are asked to contribute $1 if possible when they receive the food.
Custer said that in 2012, the organization helped 61 people. From September through December, it distributed 8,000 pounds of food to 160 pets. In January 2013, it helped 18 new clients.
“Linda happened to be the angel,” said Alice Burk, who lives near the food bank and owns two rescue dogs and two rescue cats. “She was a god send. It’s really a good thing to have the food bank.”
Custer, who owns four rescue dogs and two rescue cats along with her husband, Jason Custer, and their three children, was a volunteer at Coastal Animal Rescue and is studying to be a veterinary technician.
Eight volunteers help at the food bank, which is open Mondays from 10 a.m. until noon, Thursdays from 4-6 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Custer is managing director, her father is finance director, her brother is director of distribution and volunteer Paula Syms is director of marketing.
The agency is preparing for its grand opening from 1-4 p.m. Feb. 17. Children’s crafts, face painting, and other activities for children along with dogs ready for adoption, vendors, including a groomer and pet photographer, will be on hand. The event is free although five pounds of dog or cat food will be appreciated. A hot dog with chips and a beverage will cost $3. Other food will also be available.
“We want to help the community,” Custer said. “We want to make this a good thing. I have witnessed people giving up their pets. We’re here so they don’t have to make that choice.”
Custer holds folders filled with testimonials of grateful clients. “I thank God for sending me to the food bank,” she reads from one. Another writes, “I’m in deep need of help[my dog] has been my closest friend.”
“They are special people,” Sherrie said of Custer and the others associated with the food bank. “When we get all straightened out, we can help them.”