After the blessings box — a little free food pantry — went up in the alleyway behind 639 W. Eighth St., Tekara Hawkins of Junction City had an idea.
What if she made a little free food pantry for pet food?
She set about making the idea a reality and, this fall, she opened the Junction City Pet Pantry.
The pet pantry is composed of a plastic bin in front of house at 514 Sheridan Dr. which is filled with pet food and pet food samples.
Anyone who needs a meal for their animals can visit the site, take something and maybe come back and leave something for someone else when their circumstances have improved.
Hawkins decided to start the project in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had negative impacts on many people’s finances.
“I don’t want people to feel like they need to give up their pets because they can’t afford something, especially if it’s temporary” she said. “Some people might not always want to ask for help.”
So the pet pantry allows people in need to come grab some food for their animals when they need it without having to jump through hoops or outright ask someone for assistance if they would rather not.
Anyone can come take from the box, but anyone is also welcome to donate pet food if they wish.
Hawkins doesn’t monitor the box to track usage, but does watch it to make sure nothing goes wrong. She said the only time she checks the security cameras she has trained on the box in front of her porch is when there has been an issue such as vandalism.
There has been one incident of misbehavior at the pet pantry. Nothing too drastic, according to Hawkins, but someone had thrown items around and left the box open, causing items to be damaged.
Aside from that, however, people have behaved themselves with the pantry.
“There’s quite a bit of people when we’re home to see it,” she said.
Hawkins said community support for the pet pantry has been strong. She routinely has people message her to offer supplies and asking if she needs donations. Dorothy Stewart, the owner of Dorothy’s Pet Shop in Junction City, has donated a large stash of dog and cat food samples, cat litter, and other items, according to Hawkins. A fellow community member routinely donates small animal food.
In addition to food, people have donated pet sweaters, cat toys, small animal toys, cat nip and flea and tick shampoo.
Hawkins said she has not spent much of her own money to maintain the pet pantry, so far. If the box is running low on some essential, she goes out and buys it, but in large part she hasn’t needed to. She has a stash of extra donations in her garage in case the pantry ever runs short of something.
People who use the pet pantry don’t strictly speaking have to donate something in return, but they sometimes do.
It was pricier to start the pet pantry than it has been to maintain it so far, Hawkins said.
She said the box itself and the sign that marks it as the Junction City Pet Pantry cost more than the items she has put in it to date.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be this popular this soon,” Hawkins said. “So we definitely need something bigger, storage-wise.”
Word is spreading in the community about the pet pantry, though it has only been up for a few months.
“It’s definitely still new and not everybody knows about it, but it’s definitely making its way around,” Hawkins said.
Feedback from the community has been positive, with many people who have made use of the pet pantry sending her messages to thank her for setting it up.
“It’s funny because I started it so people could discretely come take things,” Hawkins said. “But a lot of people end up messaging me and saying ‘thank you so much.’”
Also available from Hawkins are feral cat dens.
Hawkins started making shelters for feral cats after the Junction City Animal Shelter announced its trap, neuter, release program for cats in the city. She had seen the idea on Pinterest — shelters for stray cats crafted out of totes and lined with straw — and thought they looked practical and easy to make.
So she decided to start making them and handing them out to people who wanted them.
Especially in winter, outdoor animals — including stray cats — find themselves needing to take shelter from the elements, with potential dire results if they’re not able to find someplace safe to ride out the bad weather.
“I just thought that it would be helpful,” Hawkins said. “Everybody sees cats (while) driving around Junction City and sometimes it’s hard. Especially if it’s a really cold day or it’s going to be a rough night for weather and people worry — I worry. I try not to think about it, because it upsets me thinking about animals being outside in the cold. So I just wanted to make something to where people could provide something to them and they don’t have to spend the money to do it themselves. Because I know for some people that is the difficult part, is forking out money to take care of an outdoor animal or any animal that’s not theirs. I totally understand that.”
Anyone is welcome to receive an outdoor cat den for the feral cats in their neighborhood.
“People can grab them anytime,” Hawkins said.
As with the pet pantry, she has received a number of donations from people and local groups wanting to help with the dens. Large totes are one of her biggest needs right at this moment, in terms of donations.
They’re available on the porch at the same location as the pet pantry — 514 Sheridan Dr. People who pick up dens are also welcome to help themselves to the pet pantry’s supply of cat food.
“It takes a village to take care of all these cats in our community,” Hawkins said.