Non-profit Sam's Hope helps needy pet owners with food, toys

March 23, 2015

PHILADELPHIA ó Liz Hendley has $17 left after paying all of her bills each month.

Thatís barely enough for a weekís worth of groceries for herself, much less for her two dogs, Shadow and Chichi.

"If it wasnít for Marianne, I couldnít keep up with them," the 79-year-old woman said.

Marianne Iaquinto is the founder of Samís Hope, a nonprofit that donates pet food, treats, toys, anything a pet would need, to low-income people in Philadelphia and surrounding areas.

In the last 19 months, Samís Hope, named in memory of a dog Iaquinto used to have, has distributed more than 67,000 pounds of pet food through a combination of home deliveries and partnerships with food pantries and nonprofits that assist seniors. It also has partnered with local veterinarians to provide free checkups and other medical services.

The group, which works out of a storage facility in a suburb of Philadelphia, depends on a mix of donations and grants to help Hendley and other people on a tight budget. Its aim is not to replace all of a pet ownerís expenses, but to supplement them, Iaquinto said.

It wasnít always difficult for Hendley to keep her dogs well fed.

About five years ago, when she was working as a caretaker for a child with ADHD and receiving a regular paycheck, it was fairly easy for her to keep Shadow, her 8-year-old black Labrador, in biscuits and kibble.

But after she stopped working four or five years ago and started to live exclusively on Social Security and food stamps, she found it difficult to keep up. On top of that, Shadow developed health problems. Hendley needs to buy food designed for overweight dogs, which is usually more expensive. Shadow also requires expensive trips to the vet.

She was already feeling pinched when Chichi, a 2-year-old terrier, joined her family.

But since Samís Hope stepped in a year ago, Hendleyís dogs have been eating well. In fact, she has a sweatshirt that reads: "My dog eats better than me."

"If it wasnít for Marianne, Iíd be up a creek without a paddle," Hendley said.

Iaquinto ó a 57-year-old former vice president of a company that provides child identification and safety education programs ó was moved to establish Samís Hope after learning of the rising number of pet surrenders beginning with the recession of 2008. She developed a simple goal: keeping animals out of shelters.

By February 2013, she had incorporated Samís Hope as a nonprofit dedicated to helping the poor keep their pets.

Five months later, she was in business. After juggling Samís Hope and her official job for a few months, she left her full-time position as vice president to focus on Samís Hope. All of her time to Samís Hope ó about 50 hours a week ó is donated.

Now, her efforts include collecting donations, running food deliveries to homebound seniors, and helping provide veterinary care for ailing dogs and cats.

Iaquinto measures the programís success by the number of pets she helps.

As of this year, Samís Hope has made food available to more than 3,000 pets, and has provided veterinary services to 52 pets.

Its newest program, delivering pet food to homebound seniors, feeds 50 pets. Iaquinto hopes to expand that number to 250 by the end of the year.

The group operates on a yearly budget of $65,000 and a group of 10 volunteers who use their own vehicles. For bigger deliveries, Iaquinto gets help from U-Haul and Nonstop Couriers.

Many of the owners of modest means, Iaquinto said, would rather cut from their own budgets than give up their pets to the shelter.

"If they canít provide food for their animal, theyíd be forced to give them away," said April McKnight of Jesus Focus Ministry Food outside the city. Her organization is one of the agencies that delivers pet food for Samís Hope.

Often, the pets are also the only companions people have.

Barbara Garcia, who received vet care for her cat, Palomo, through Samís Hope, said that the group was a "godsend."

"Iím all by myself. Iím 60 and I donít have any family. My family is my cats," Garcia said.




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