The students and staff at Ross Education’s Grand Rapids North campus recently held a drive for the Pleasant Hearts Pet Food Pantry. Some of the items collected during the drive included dry and wet canned food, treats, toys, pet beds, flea and tick prevention treatments, and more. Pleasant Hearts is a volunteer and donation-based non-profit organization that works to keep pets with their families and out of shelters. They strive to help owners who are struggling financially to provide for their pets.
The organization was started back in 2016 when Rachel Jensen and a small group of individuals were volunteering at a local animal shelter. While volunteering, Rachel saw a need for more food pantries in the community. Many pet owners had to give up their pets because they didn’t have the financial means to take care of them. They were devastated when they had to give them up because their pets were already part of the family. So, in an effort to decrease the number of pets that were given up to shelters, Pleasant Hearts Pet Food Pantry was born.
The non-profit now has a board of directors and a group of like-minded individuals who are running it and working hard to reduce the number of animals that end up in shelters. They are also working on partnering with various organizations to offer discounts to their clients for vaccines, spay and neuter procedures, and microchips. Everything is free of charge to their clients and they also offer free delivery to people who are unable to come out due to any health-related reasons.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Rachel and hear the story behind Pleasant Hearts Pet Food Pantry and what inspired her to start the organization.
Here is what she had to say:
Tell me a little bit about Pleasant Hearts and how you guys came to be.
We have been around since December 2016. The idea came to me while I was working at an animal shelter. I noticed that a lot of people had to get rid of their animals because they weren’t financially able to take care of them or feed them.
So a couple friends and I got together and formed what is now known as Pleasant Hearts Pet Food Pantry. We actually started the organization in my friend’s basement who owns a dog training business. She supported our business idea so she let us start there, and we’ve just grown ever since.
The dog training business that we started in the basement of is called Pleasant Dogs, so I pretty much just took the word ‘pleasant’ and then tried to figure out a way to tie that into something. So we came up with ‘hearts’ and it became Pleasant Hearts.
As for the organization itself, we are a 100% donation-based and volunteer-run organization. We do have a grant from Bissell that helps us pay for some of our clients’ spay and neuter procedures. But outside of the grant, our operation has been completely based on donations. We have some people who do recurring monthly donations, and others who do one-time donations here and there. We’ve also had some people actually write us into their will. Someone did that a while back and donated to us after they passed. We have an Amazon wish list and donation barrels around Kent County. Donations can be dropped off at our different locations or at our warehouse in Grand Rapids. Additionally, we accept donations on our distribution days, which are held every other Saturday at our Grand Rapids location.
We will pretty much take anything, even if it’s gently used. We accept dry and wet food, collars, leashes, tick and flea prevention treatments, etc. If you have older and gently used stuff laying around in the house, we will take those items too. That includes food as well. We will take it even if the bag has been opened already. Sometimes pets are picky with certain foods, so instead of throwing it away, they can just donate it and we will put it towards good use.
Who can get help?
We help anybody who needs it. We do have some clients who have been with us since we started, but we also get new clients every single week. They can sign up online or they can just come to our location. We normally ask what type of animal(s) they have and if they have any special dietary needs. We mostly help cats and dogs, but we do provide assistance to other animals as well. Some of our clients come in every time we host the pantry while others come in every couple of months. It really just depends on their needs and financial situation.
People actually used our food pantry a lot when COVID started. Many lost their jobs and their ability to put food on the table. So due to their financial situation, they also had a hard time affording pet food and supplies.
Our main goal is to help people keep their pets in their home and out of shelters. Our organization is more so catered towards people who already have pets and are struggling to keep them. It’s not really a place for people to come when they decide to get a new pet because it is assumed that if you get a new pet, you have the means to take care of them. We want to help pets who are already part of the family and their owners are struggling to keep them.
We also made it mandatory that everyone gets their pets spayed and neutered. However, we didn’t make it mandatory until it was something we could actually help with. And now we can with our spay and neuter assistance program. So we plan on helping people with that as much as we can.
Overall, we hope to continue getting our name out there and let people know that we are a resource they can use if they need help. They can just go online and complete a new client form on our website or they can come to distribution day and we can get them signed up there as well.
Why is your work meaningful to you?
It really just has a special place in my heart. When I worked at the shelter, I just met so many people who loved their pets so much and they would go so far as to feed them before they would feed themselves. There aren’t a lot of resources to help people out with these kinds of things.
Also, it’s really nice to be able to have a pet. They just become members of the family, and I truly think it’s a privilege to be a pet owner. I can’t imagine having to give up one of my pets for any financial reasons. So if you already have a pet and you need help, we’re happy to help. We truly have an awesome team of people and really amazing clients who we’ve built relationships with. It’s kind of like a big family and we want to do everything that we can to help people keep their pets.
What future plans do you guys have for the shelter?
For now, we want to pretty much maintain things the way that they are, but in this last year, we added the spay and neuter assistance program. Last month, we actually had our first microchip clinic. We microchipped approximately 53 pets for free, and we’re planning on doing another microchip clinic next month. We want to continue doing things like this, and eventually we want to get into community education. We found that a lot of people just don’t know what resources are available to them. In addition to not having the financial means to take care of their pets, people also sometimes have to give up them up pets for behavioral reasons like, for example, they bark, bite, or jump up too much. We just want to be able to help educate people about pet ownership and inform them about all of the resources available to them. So really just finding as many outlets as possible in the community for our pet owners.
Can anybody volunteer?
Yes, anybody can volunteer and we are always accepting new volunteers. Practically all they have to do is send us an email and we just have a quick conversation letting them know what we do and what we need volunteers for. Then we will email them the volunteer application. We do have some people who aren’t able to volunteer on the weekends so they help out with the distribution instead, which is generally our biggest need. We also have a need for volunteers who are willing to go pick up donations and deliver to the people who aren’t able to attend. Picking up the deliveries is a huge need. We’ve also had situations where someone needs help with transportation so they can get their pets to the vet. It’s not something that we do a whole lot, but it’s definitely something that we are willing to do if someone asks for help. Eventually, we would love to be able to have a designated team of people who are willing and able to do that.
The Pleasant Hearts Pet Food Pantry is supported by many individuals and businesses in the community. Ross College at Grand Rapids North is a passionate community when it comes to helping animals. The campus has had multiple donation drives for animal charities in the past, and the students, faculty, and staff will continue supporting the pantry as much as they can. The drive took place during the month of June, and it was spearheaded by the assistant campus director and the assistant director of admissions. For more information on Pleasant Hearts Pet Food Pantry, please visit https://www.pleasantheartspetfoodpantry.org/.