What is a Random Act of Kindness and how did it start? In 1982, Anne Herbert wrote “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a restaurant placemat in Sausalito, California. This began Random Acts of Kindness (RAK). A Random Act of Kindness, as defined by GoodTherapy.org, “refers to selfless acts, both large and small, that are committed unexpectedly, without prompting and with no apparent ulterior motive.”
What started as a conversation between Beth Van Zandt and Ardyth Slight turned into a passion project for Beth. Ardyth told Beth that many women wouldn’t leave their abusive husbands or partners because they threaten to hurt their dog if they leave. Dogs aren’t allowed at the homeless shelter or the domestic violence shelter. Beth says, “If you’re going to lose everything, if you’re going to the shelter and have to give up everything, why should you have to give up your dog?” After a conversation with her husband, Joe, and another conversation with MCSA’s Executive Director at the time, Charla Schafer, she couldn’t believe there wasn’t a program in place already. Living outside of town, Beth has the space to help take care of the pets. She’s been fostering pets of MCSA clients since the fall of 2017.
MCSA case managers asked Beth if she had any pet food to give to families that were moving into their own place. She was looking at grants one day and found a grant for pet food pantries and she thought “that’s not a bad idea.” It took about 4 months to get the pantry started and she said the community has been amazing. Kent Feeds has donated food. Hy-Vee gives broken bags of food and supplies to the food rescue program which gives those items to the pet food pantry. She ran out of storage room at her business so she got a 20 foot shipping container to store everything. “It’s just taken off,” said Beth.
The pet food pantry officially started last fall in the parking lot of the First Presbyterian Church on Iowa Avenue. When it got cold, the church offered some space to set up inside. A lot of the people that come to the pantry are elderly. Beth gives them small bags of food and litter to help supplement for the month. Sometimes that animal is all they have. It’s the same with the shelter. When a family goes to the shelter with kids, and they have a dog, they aren’t only losing their house, they are losing everything, and sometimes that dog is the only thing that’s not yelling at them.
Beth also makes sure the pet’s vaccinations are up to date. She received a grant through Safe Harbor Pets to use for the pets of families staying at the shelter. With the family’s permission, Beth takes the pets to Dr. Hathaway or the Humane Society to get their vaccines updated.
Currently, Beth uses MCSA as her umbrella. She says it’s great, but she isn’t able to do capital improvements because the kennels are on her property. She has purchased all her kennels, including a large 24x12x10 foot kennel, with her own money. She is looking at working with the Community Foundation or getting her own non-profit status so she can go after other funding sources. “I’m seeing more of a need for people that aren’t in the shelter.” She just took care of dogs for someone whose husband lost his job, and they were living in their car and with family. They had 5 dogs. Since they weren’t living at the shelter, she couldn’t use the grant funds and had to pay to care for those dogs out of her own pocket. “There are a lot of grants out there I’d like to get, but I can’t because I’m not my own 501c3.”
“The good Lord has changed my path. I didn’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing 2 years ago.” One night while caring for 5 dogs, Beth asked her husband, “Hey, what would constitute you contemplating divorce?” Her husband said, “Well, you’re pushing it.” A week later they had 15 dogs they cared for. Beth believes there isn’t a threshold.
The pet food pantry is open on the 3rd Wednesday of each month from 8-10am at the First Presbyterian Church at 401 Iowa Avenue. The pantry and kennel welcome donations of food and litter, along with new or gently used bowls, kennels, collars, and other pet supplies. They can be dropped off at Happy Tails at 720 Clay Street. Please contact Beth at 563-264-0822 with questions about either the kennel care or the pantry.