The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need for food and other resources as businesses and families struggle with lost income. One Tucson organization is working to ensure that animals aren’t going unfed.
The Southern Arizona Animal Food Bank stores approximately 3,000 pounds of pet food each month and serves around 100 families with it, according to food bank director Donna DeConcini. And those numbers have gone up during the pandemic.
“I normally would have gotten 30-40 calls a month,” DeConcini said. “Since the pandemic started — and I think this was why we thought that we needed a storefront — I was just getting overwhelmed with 100 to 150 calls a month of people that were in need.”
DeConcini and her daughter, Margaux, founded the food bank 16 years ago out of their garage and it became a nonprofit in 2016. They opened up a 6,000-square-foot location in mid-December at 6252 E. Speedway .
Six weeks after opening their storefront, they had already distributed 4,900 of their collected 6,800 pounds of animal food.
The animal food bank works together with Friends of PACC and the Gospel Rescue Mission, exchanging items and food that can’t be used at one organization for things that can be used at the other. Holy Cow Tack & Feed is a donation drop-off location for the food bank as well.
“Now that we’ve got our footing with the food, we want to arrange to have people get their animals spayed and neutered,” DeConcini said. They would also like to launch a mobile shot clinic.
In addition to distributing food, the Southern Arizona Animal Food Bank serves as an art gallery of sorts. Artists can pay for space to display their work, with a percentage of the sales going to the food bank.
HOW IT STARTED
Back in high school, Margaux DeConcini was working at a local feed store during the recession and she noticed that people needed help feeding their horses.
Margaux , who is the development director of Therapeutic Riding of Tucson (TROT), recalls going out riding and returning to find horses attached to her trailer. Accompanying notes explained their owners could no longer afford to care for them, she said.
In 2005, the mother and daughter team started Food for Horses. Requests started coming in for dog and cat food, so they evolved it into the food bank.
“Oftentimes, the most requests we got were from elderly individuals living on a fixed income, like Social Security, and they couldn’t afford to pay for animals,” Margaux DeConcini said. “There were times where they’d have to give up their animals because they were tired of having to make the choice between feeding themselves or their animal.”
With the help of volunteers, food can be delivered to those who can’t make it to the food bank, and they can provide beds, leashes, collars, toys and sometimes donated gift certificates for the spay or neutering of pets at clinics. Volunteers drive around with food, leashes and collars in their cars in case they come across someone who could use them.
“We are always looking for volunteers. We put in a huge service in this community, it’s bigger than you could even imagine, the need right now for that,” DeConcini said. “Every person who has come in has been so grateful, overwhelmingly so.”
HELPING OTHERS IN NEED
“Animals become a part of your life and family; I’d be lost without mine,” food bank Assistant Manager Becky Janes said, “so it’s nice we have this opportunity to help others.”
Hannah Anolik, 23, went into the food bank to pick up dog food for her 7-month-old terrier mix pup Frida Mae at the end of January.
“It was a really easy experience,” Anolik said on the phone. Frida Mae could be heard squeaking a dog toy in the background. “They were able to match whatever dog food I wanted, the flavor and brand, and that was really nice. And they threw in some extra treats.”
Patrick Murphy has an 11-year-old bull mastiff named Bo, two 9-year-old cats named Salt and Pepper, and no transportation. He would have had to take multiple bus rides to pick up animal food from the Southern Arizona Animal Food Bank, so they delivered it to his home.
“I was very happy that they helped me out in my time of need,” Murphy said.
The food bank can help feed most pets, from fish, turtles, and lizards to guinea pigs, birds, and horses.
“I’m a widower and these animals are actually my best friends,” Murphy said. “I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
The food bank is open Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Sunday Joyahnnah Holland is a University of Arizona journalism student apprenticing with the Arizona Daily Star.