8000 Pounds of Salvation

“The shipment is at our warehouse in Federalsburg, Maryland. Can you arrange pick up?”

The question came from one of our Softies, Chris Hughes – known throughout the animal rescue world along with his wife Mariesa as co-founders of the Mr. Mo Project –  a NY-based rescue that saves senior pups, many with debilitating illnesses and conditions, to ensure they live out their golden years being cared for and loved.  However, this question was posed on behalf of his “other job” as Digital Media Specialist at Weruva, makers of premium cat and dog food. They were donating 6 pallets, 15,000 units of cat food worth $30,000 and all we had to do was pick it up. Could we manage that?

“Yes, of course, no problem,” I answered cavalierly as if we did this kind of thing every day.

It should come as no surprise that at a time when many are struggling just to pay bills and put food on the table, donations for animals have all but dried up.  And what help there still is rarely extends to the hundreds, if not thousands, of cats abandoned, dumped and living on Baltimore’s streets.  We already knew our local cat colony caretakers were hurting so this shipment of food would be manna from heaven. And we knew we’d do whatever was necessary to make it happen.

Confession time. Pollyanna here thought – it’s no big deal.  We’ll pick a day and we’ll all drive to southern Maryland, load up our SUVs and, in my case, Volkswagen Jetta, and head back to Baltimore.  Once here, we’ll pop it in a storage unit and figure out next steps.  Fortunately, our Show Your Soft Side board is made up of more pragmatic minds. Our fundraising guru, Robin Boyle and Treasurer, Genny Resch had two simple questions.  How big are the pallets and how much do they weigh? 

The answer floored all of us. 

Each pallet was 4’x 4’ by 5’ tall and weighed over 1000 pounds.  So much for the Volkswagen Jetta approach, it was time to call in the big guns.

 Over the course of the next week, Genny drafted her husband (who’s in the business) to help us find a truck, forklift and driver, and coordinate with our liaison at the warehouse.  Meanwhile, Robin started in on the storage search only to discover that storage facilities don’t allow pet food for obvious rodent reasons.  Never one to throw in the towel, she came up with a new thought – what if we rented two storage pods?

Great idea, but where could we install them that would make for easy unloading and distribution?  That’s when she called Charlie, an old family friend (and animal lover) who owns a rather large local Exxon.  Would he be willing to let us set up camp at his business and distribute directly from there?  The answer was yes, and we finally had a plan.

While these two were sweating the details on how to actually pull this off, I received a text from another one of our Softies – Ronnie Stanley of the Baltimore Ravens. 

“Hey Sande, I have a bunch of dog food I’m willing to give away to people that got laid off and can’t afford food for their dogs.”

As you might imagine, my answer was YESSSSSSS.  Will it fit in my car? 

That weekend, my first sighting of a human other than my husband in six long shelter-at-home weeks was Ronnie Stanley loading 25-pound bags of premium dog food and bins full of freeze-dried food bags into our car.   Ronnie’s not one for wanting the limelight for his good deeds (as evidenced recently when he tried to quietly send dinners to local hospital workers only to be ratted out by Jimmy’s Famous Seafood), but Lola, his rescue pup, isn’t so publicity averse.  She promptly jumped in the backseat and posed for her thank you picture.  After all, this major haul was hers to begin with. 

Five hundred plus pounds of dog food now accounted for and sitting safely in my husband’s car.  Next up was the cat food delivery and that was scheduled for the following Thursday.  

We all counted the minutes, hours and days till Thursday. The plan was for our truck and driver to pick up from the warehouse in Southern Maryland and then we’d meet at Charlie’s Exxon in Baltimore County that afternoon to unload.  It turned out, Mother Nature had other ideas since monsoon rains and high winds restricted travel across the Bay Bridge.  From Federalsburg, the truck was able to make it to Jessup and would call us with their Baltimore ETA on Friday morning.  We got the call as the truck pulled up to Charlie’s Exxon and we all rushed over to find not six pallets, but seven weighing over 7500 pounds.  (And I feel the need to point out, this isn’t 7500 pounds of cans, but instead pouches so you can grasp – this is A LOT of food.) Masked and gloved, but thrilled to see each other again, we set up a human conveyor belt and loaded the food into two separate pods.

Distribution day was scheduled for Tuesday, May 5.  Ironically (and unbeknownst to us till we saw it on Facebook), that day was the one-year anniversary of Pawject Runway – our annual event that we had to cancel this year because of the coronavirus.  We all got there early and were anxious to finally see the people who, in our world, are the heroes. The ones who are making sure the most vulnerable among us are cared for and fed. This time, even Mother Nature cooperated.

Starting at 11am that day, we got to see a steady parade of the absolute best of humanity.  Men and women who spend their free time caring for homeless cats in colonies ranging from 3 to 100, stocking food pantries for animals in need and everyday people who are just struggling to care for the pets they love. 

We got to thank each of them personally for their efforts and load their cars and trucks to the brim. By 3:30 that day, both pods were empty and over 8000 pounds of pet food was in the hands of the people who need it.

 It’s important to remember, there is no Payroll Protection Plan, stimulus checks or government assistance for the animals in our communities.  There are, however, angels with names like Chris Hughes, Ronnie Stanley and Weruva. Years down the road, when we think back on the pandemic of 2020, this will be the day we remember.  And we’re so grateful to all of them for making it happen. 

We’re also deeply indebted to Charlie, owner of the Seminary Exxon for being such a gracious host, Brian Resch, whose company absorbed (translation – donated) the freight charges involved in transporting the food, Jimmy’s Famous Seafood for having their food truck on site to keep us company and Saving Grace Animal Rescue of Maryland for bringing adoptable pups to cuddle throughout the day.

Tankerella’s face says it all. It was a long, but very gratifying day.