FARGO — Heather Martinez figured there might be a need for some help among the Fargo area’s pet owners. But she didn’t think she’d spend the past few months getting to know so many dogs, cats and their humans who responded to her work to organize a free pet food distribution network in the community.
Since the first distribution event in Fargo on July 12, she says the Fargo Area Pet Pantry has fed 196 unique pets, many of them multiple times. All together, it adds up to about 1,500 individual meals so far — and their work has only started.
Martinez and a few other volunteers started the effort this summer. Since then, she says more have joined the cause, and about 10 volunteers now help out.
During the summer months, the group organized weekly pet food distributions in a parking lot. It gave her a chance to meet some memorable pups, leading to many pleasant interactions with grateful dogs and humans — and some messier moments.
“Except for the dogs that peed on our boxes, I don’t like that,” she says. “People love to bring their dogs.”
But with cooler weather on the way, outdoor distributions have stopped, and the pantry has now shifted entirely to pet food deliveries each Wednesday evening.
Locals who need help can visit the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/fargopetpantry/, where they’ll find basic guidelines and what information they must provide to volunteers.
Martinez says she opens requests for a weekly delivery each Saturday morning on the Facebook page and closes requests Sunday evening. Then, that week’s deliveries are organized and brought to houses the following Wednesday evening.
It’s a big effort that requires community backing in addition to the volunteers who keep things running, she says. While the group has been successful so far through donations, Martinez says its food drive that kicked off Monday, Oct. 5, aims to not only replenish its inventory but help it grow its giving.
“The donations that we get are a little bit sporadic, so it would be really nice to have backstock,” she says. “We also are looking to be able to feed more pets than we have been.”
Now through Oct. 16, locals can drop off unexpired pet food 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday at Park Co. Realtors, 4170 41st Ave. S., Fargo. Opened packages can be accepted as long as the unexpired food is in the original packaging.
In addition to food, the group is accepting donations of litter, treats, doggy bags and new or gently used toys, leashes and food bowls.
Martinez says Park Co. offered to host the food drive when she was starting to think of possible locations — she didn’t even have to ask.
Whether it’s that offer to host or the man who came to the Sunday morning distributions with his dog and was “the most appreciative person” she’s ever met, Martinez says she can think of many examples of Fargo-Moorhead stepping up to make this effort possible.
“This has really made it clear to me at least that we can make a big difference when people support other people,” she says. “That just makes me really proud of my community.”
After the food drive, Fargo Area Pet Pantry will still need and accept donations to keep going. Martinez says anyone interested in making a donation should visit the Facebook page and send a message to schedule a time.