The Citizen Spotlight is a project I started with the Oklahoma Gazette. In each issue, we highlight a person in our community who stands out for their leadership, kindness, and good deeds. Read it on the Oklahoma Gazette website here.
Candace Beaty of the Pet Food Pantry of Oklahoma City
Pets are beloved members of the family, and no one knows that better than the team at the Pet Food Pantry of Oklahoma City. When down on their luck and experiencing food insecurity, many feed their pets before they eat, but the team at the Pet Food Pantry makes it their mission to bridge the gap and ensures pets in food-insecure families get a good meal.
“We have all the supplies that people will need in order to make sure their pets are happy and healthy,” said Candace Beaty, executive director of the Pet Food Pantry of Oklahoma City. “Our main goal is to make sure pets are fed so people can focus on their other needs.”
The Pet Food Pantry of Oklahoma City was founded in 2010 by Kim Pempin, who saw the need in the community and wanted to do more.
“She saw these homeless people with their dogs, so she started going out and handing out food,” Beaty said. “Then, one night at bingo, she noticed the senior citizens were more excited about the bingo prize of dog food than the other prizes, and it stuck with her. They’re on a limited income, and these people are going to choose between their needs, their utilities, their medical, their own food, or their pet’s food, especially right now, as expensive as pet food is. We team up with Meals on Wheels, and they’ll tell you that they will deliver one meal a day, and the first thing these people do is divide it in half between their pet and themselves.”
When Candace joined the program as a volunteer in 2015, she knew it would become her permanent home. She later joined the board, and by 2019, she took over as executive director.
“I’ve always loved pets,” Beaty said. “I joined the Pet Food Pantry because of Junior League. It was my placement and where I got my volunteer hours. But then when I got here, on that first day that I went to go volunteer and I saw what it was, I knew this was it. My pets are so important to me that I’m going to feed them and take care of them before I do myself. That’s when I knew this was the place for me. There’s a big need for what we do, and it’s important.”
The need for the Pet Food Pantry has grown at a rapid pace over the last couple of years. The COVID-19 pandemic and rising food costs have only exacerbated issues of food insecurity and homelessness throughout Oklahoma, which already has the fifth-highest food insecurity rate in the nation. The Pet Food Pantry gives out pet food at homeless outreach sites across the city and offers home deliveries to those in need.
“Right now, we’re experiencing a lot of growth,” said Beaty. “We have two different programs. Our primary program is home deliveries. We serve low-income seniors, veterans, the homeless and the disabled, and we also deliver to domestic violence shelters. With that program, we are currently serving about 200 people and close to 600 pets through home deliveries with about 30 drivers who take the food to them once a month. Then we have our other program, which is where we load up our box truck and travel throughout the metro to give out pet food to anybody in need. In that we do smaller quantities, typically a five- to ten-pound bag of food, just enough to try to get them through a little bit of time. Through that program, we’re serving over a thousand pets a month. So far, we’ve done about 170,000 pounds this year and it’s only May. Back in 2018, for the whole year we did 117,000 pounds, so we’re already significantly further than we used to be.”
The Pet Food Pantry has about 200 volunteers who help the small nonprofit continue its mission. The donations come from businesses big and small and individuals who simply want to help. With rising pet food costs and product shortages, the need for specific items has increased.
“Dry cat food is a huge need right now,” Beaty said. “Wet cat and dog food are very important, and those are things that don’t get donated often. We give out dry food first, enough to cover the whole month, but if they have an old dog, they can’t eat dry kibble as well, so wet food becomes very important. And it moves quickly, all the food you see on the shelves right now will be gone by this month.”
The Pet Food Pantry does more than focus on pet food, the volunteers and drivers build relationships with the people they serve, often filling a void for both parties.
“A lot of the seniors that we serve don’t have relatives nearby, so their pets are their family, that’s all they have,” Beaty told me. “One of the reasons we do these deliveries is so they have a connection. Every home delivery has a dedicated driver, so every month, the same person will come by to check on them when they deliver pet supplies. And they start developing a relationship. We have some drivers who say they’ve become like their grandma or an extended family member. They’ll go celebrate birthdays, holidays, and whatever highs and lows life brings them.”
Whatever is in store for the future of the Pet Food Pantry, it doesn’t include slowing down.
“Right now we’ve got two programs going on and we’ve been trying to decide if there is one we want to focus on more than the other,” Beaty said. “We would love to go heavier on our home deliveries because we’re able to give people better service, connect one on one about their needs, versus our outreaches because those are more of a temporary service, not permanent. At those, we aren’t giving you flea medicine, leashes or other supplies. It’s just a small bag of pet food. But with our home clients, we can focus on your personal needs and make sure that your pets are fully taken care of, that they have their vaccinations, and are spayed and neutered. If you need something else, like your utilities aren’t on, we can connect you with people who can help with that. It’s more of a social service kind of aspect. But the thing is that we don’t have enough drivers. So it’s like what comes first: the chicken or the egg? Do I hire more drivers and then beef up the clientele, or beef up the clientele and then find the drivers? But we want some more growth in that area. When I joined the board, I said that my goal for this place was to be as big as Regional Food Bank. That’s still where I want us to be, not Pet Food Pantry of Oklahoma City but Pet Food Pantry of Oklahoma. I want us to cover the whole state and help as many pets and people as we can. We have started to do that in the last year. Any food that we can’t use we give to rescues and we were able to cover the whole state doing that. The need is definitely there. We can do it. We just have to figure out the logistics.”
To learn more about the Pet Food Pantry of Oklahoma City, to donate or volunteer, visit www.pfpokc.org.