Pet food from the heart

IMG_E6343SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The Westcott Community Center in Syracuse was filled with a scent that pet owners know too well on Saturday afternoon – pet food. Volunteers from the Kia Foundation Inc. lugged in 2,000 pounds of food and supplies for their latest monthly giveaway since the company’s inception in September 2018.

A line of pet owners compiled at the door and stretched to the street. Inside, The Kia Foundation’s founder, Sam Washington, pointed at the lack of pet resources in Syracuse. For some people in financial distress, a beloved pet may be all they have.

“It started from a love of animals,” Washington said, recounting the passing of his dog Kia, a Shar Pei and Pitbull mix, in 2009 when medical options became too expensive.

Now, Washington and his wife Kate Berry, the program’s director, have created a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that provides a platform to help dog owners. The organization holds monthly events and delivers food to immobile pet owners meeting certain qualifications.

Back in line, some people were individual pet owners; some were foster or rescue home owners who use the free food for their own pets while spending money to take care of the animals they provide shelter for. Whether they saw the event online or just happened to be walking by, people came in droves.

Sara Allen got a ride from her hometown of Fulton, 30 miles away, to attend her third giveaway. She uses the food to feed her own pets, while spending her own money to take care of feral cats in her neighborhood. After waiting in line outside, Allen walked into the building and looked around at the tables, which overflowed with pet food and toys.

“There’s several generations of pet helpers right in this room,” she said as she looked at Washington’s five young children, seated behind the tables to help pass out supplies.

Washington’s oldest son, Sam jr., 16, showed videos of the family at their house scooping food into bags to prepare for the event. Although Washington and Berry both work full-time jobs, they always find time for giving back.

“It doesn’t even feel like work when you’re helping out the community, and we’ve identified a need that hasn’t been identified before,” Berry said about juggling their busy schedules. The family discovered the lack of pet services here in Syracuse; now, as an organization, they’re helping to fill that void.


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