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ACUSHNET — When Kenneth Gonsalves saw a gentleman counting out loose change to pay for a can of pet food, it sparked an idea that blew up instantly.
He immediately arrived home and told his wife, Jill. He returned back to the store and bought more pet food for the man.
“It was just bothering him,” Jill Gonsalves said. “It made him think, ‘How many people must struggle to do that?'”
Jill said her husband was also worried that man was struggling to feed not only his pet but himself.
As owners of two large Labrador retrievers, the couple understands how expensive it can be to nourish pets. They put a request out on Facebook for a solution and told the story of the gentleman’s inability to cover food costs and received hundreds of comments, starting their journey of a charitable act for the community of pet owners.
How the Acushnet Pet Food pantry started
Kanneth and Jill Gonsalves bought their current home in 2016 located at 95 Wing Road in Acushnet, previously owned by Kenneth Gonsalves’ grandfather. His grandfather once owned and operated a farm stand on the large plot of farmland in the 1950s as his sole source of income. For the past 20 years, the couple continued the grandfather’s tradition during farmer’s market season.
That is until COVID-19 hit and the couple took up a new use for the farm stand: pet food pantry.
The Acushnet Pet Food Pantry is based on a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can honor system.
After posting on social media and seeing another use for the farm stand, the couple went out and bought a couple hundred dollars’ worth of pet food from Wal-Mart: bags of dry dog and cat food, cans of wet food along with large Rubbermaid clear totes for storage. They labeled the totes and reopened the farm stand, posted on social media, and soon enough they received local recognition from a Boston news station. They also discovered a sweet note inside their mailbox.
“We were really excited that somebody had actually used it,” Jill Gonsalves said.
Shortly after, they created a Facebook page for the pantry and when they were featured on the news the next morning, the account was flooded with messages. Jill Gonsalves said that the first Saturday it was open, it was pouring rain, but that didn’t stop people showing up from town with bags of food donations.
“Instantly, people really took to it,” Jill Gonsalves said. “I’d come home to stacks of boxes from Amazon and Chewy.”
At this point, the food pantry hadn’t posted an Amazon Wish List for the public. Community members were just picking out food on their own accord and dropping it off, having it shipped or sending Venmo donations. Between all of these contributions, Jill Gonsalves said the pantry was full for a couple of months. The couple set up a nonprofit to “take it as far as we can take it.”
“It’s been a really incredibly rewarding experience,” she said. “It’s neat to hear from people all over the country, Massachusetts, saying, ‘I’m going to start something like this where I live.'”
The couple said their goal was to keep the type of food people are looking for in stock so they don’t have to change a pet’s food. They shared the page to a Buy Nothing group on Facebook — where people post items they want to give away or are in need of, for free — and even a website for food pantries in the area.
Jill Gonsalves said while not many people will randomly leave items at the farm stand, as the majority of donations come from online, locals will call and ask to donate leftover food from pets who have recently passed away.
Making it to the ‘Rachael Ray Show’
After opening the pantry in December 2020, local news outlets began to give it more publicity over the next few months. In February 2021, Kenneth Gonsalves received a phone call from producers of the “Rachael Ray Show,” saying that segment coordinators found the couple and would like to run a story.
Ray, whose self-named foundation focuses on charitable acts toward animals, wanted to feature the Gonsalves. Through a six week-long process of phone interviews, pitching to bosses, the Gonsalves filming their own video and photos due to COVID-19 restrictions and finally a live Zoom interview with Ray, the segment finally aired in the last week of April.
“She was awesome to us,” Jill Gonsalves said.
Recently, the segment was run again and caused a stir on social media.
“I didn’t know about this place!! What an amazing community we live in. The story of this place is so great it made Rachel [sic] cry! I am so excited to go donate food for our furry friends!” Karee Norton posted to the Facebook group Dartmouth Helping Dartmouth.
What you can do to continue to help
The Acushnet Pet Food Pantry has created an Amazon Wish List of regularly stocked dry and wet animal food so there’s no guessing in which food will be accepted. In addition, the wish list includes feeding bowls, cat litter, treats, toys, bones, pet beds and even hay for rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils and other small animals.
After being featured on the “Rachael Ray Show,” the host donated food and a shed to store all contributions. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the shed was delayed, so the couple currently operates the pantry out of their own home.
“All of the attic, basement, entryway … all filled with food,” Jill Gonsalves said.
Like any other store or pantry, however, inventory is running low.
“The hardest thing for us is cat litter,” Jill Gonsalves said. “It’s expensive, necessary and something that people don’t consider as much.”
When the pantry first opened, it was much more cat-owner focused, but over the past couple of months, the Gonsalves have seen a shift and there seems to be an even split between dog and cat inventory.
Standard-Times staff writer Kerri Tallman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @ktallman_SCT for links to recent articles.
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