Beth Van Zandt and one of her rescue dogs with food for the new pet food pantry and supplies for MCSA’s fostering program

Muscatine Center for Social Action (MCSA) works to help people in poverty by providing comprehensive services for them and their families. Now, the organization will expand their services to help those in need care for their pets too. Beginning on the seventeenth of September, MCSA will open its pet food pantry, empowering people in poverty to better care for their pets, and by extension, themselves.
Scott Dahlke, interim director of MCSA, explains that, like many families, people in poverty frequently have pets. However, difficulties arise when money runs short and pet owners must make decisions about buying food. In his experience, Dahlke observed, “a lot of people in poverty have animals and consider them members of their family. Many would rather go without [food themselves] than starve their pet.” Because few programs exist to support pet owners in poverty, and because some people look down on low income families with pets, helping people find a way to feed themselves while caring for their animals can prove challenging. By opening the pet food pantry, MCSA hopes to alleviate this stressor, and give pet owners in poverty a sustainable way to feed both themselves and their pets.
While Dahlke oversees all MCSA’s programing, Beth Van Zandt specifically operates the pet food pantry, and her dedication to the program helped it go from an idea to a reality. Van Zandt originally got the inspiration for the pet food pantry from a Circle of Faith project co-lead by Prairie and Spangler Methodist Churches on helping survivors of domestic violence. During the event, Van Zandt learned people with dogs stayed in abusive situations more often than those without. Motivated to act, Van Zandt wanted to find a way to make it easier for people accessing MCSA’s domestic violence shelter, as well as its homeless shelter, to have the resources they need to care for their animals, so they can focus on their own wellbeing. While MCSA already has a fostering program in place to care for pets while people stay in their shelters, Van Zandt wanted to extend their services and continue to support people and their pets once they move out. “If people don’t need to spend $20 on dog food, they can take it to the grocery store for themselves,” explains Van Zandt. By freeing up money, Van Zandt hopes to make transitions smoother for the most vulnerable in our community.
With these goals in mind, Van Zandt got in contact with MCSA and Norah Dwyer of the Muscatine Food Pantry. Dwyer, who offered assistance by giving her the pet food donations they had received, explained how the food pantry operated, and coordinated a time both organizations could serve people, so they could collect their food and their pet’s food in one trip. This collaboration enabled Van Zandt to make her vision into a reality. Once the pet food pantry opens, anyone in need may drive up and collect cat food, cat litter, or dog food. If anyone requests supplies for an exotic pet, Van Zandt will begin supplying those as well. As the pet food pantry prepares to open next week, Van Zandt and MCSA will once again showcase Muscatine’s ability to provide creative solutions for helping all the people, and animals, who live here.