LEWISTON — There are at least two things about which Kommunity Kritters founder Amy Sanchez is passionate: Pets and the Tree Streets residential neighborhood downtown.
When she moved back to Maine from Texas about 10 years ago, Sanchez was dealing with the loss of her mother while raising her son as a single parent.
That’s when she rescued her first dog, Maisie, a 10-pound Bichon Frise. But more challenges arose for Sanchez, who found herself homeless for a time.
“I was homeless and had to have somebody look after her for a while,” Sanchez said during a phone interview from her Lewiston home last week, as a still-sprightly Maisie vied for her mom’s attention.
“Then once I got situated and I had a home for her and I, you know, I realized that everybody has this problem.”
There are a lot of unhoused, low-income or otherwise vulnerable people who have pets they love and care for, but might struggle to afford the resources they need, Sanchez said.
“Sometimes they (can’t) feed them or they would rather feed their animals than themselves. I know I would, I’ve done it,” she said.
“People will tell you, ‘Well, you shouldn’t have an animal because you can’t take care of yourself, much less your animal.’ But sometimes that animal is the only thing keeping people going, making them get up in the morning.”
Sanchez said she had been kicking around the idea of a community-based resource for pet owners to get the food, veterinary care and other resources for their pets for some time but it was the pandemic that lit a fire in her belly.
With a $6,000 grant from Healthy Neighborhoods, the Tree Streets-focused community organization, Sanchez launched Kommunity Kritters in August.
That month, Kommunity Kritters hosted an event at the Pop-Up Garden, or PUG, on Bartlett Street and with the support of the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society and Kaydenz Kitchen, the Lewiston-based food pantry, they were able to give away $3,000 worth of food, litter, leashes, collars, waste bags, toys and more.
“Anything we could think of that they might need, somebody might need, we had it and we gave it away,” Sanchez said.
She hoped that 100 people would attend, but more than 150 people showed up. Sanchez estimates that Kommunity Kritters and the Human Society gave away more than $800 worth in flea and tick treatments alone.
The Human Society and Kaydenz Kitchen gave away even more items – for animals and humans – and other neighborhood resources such as Community Concepts and Safe Voices set up booths at the event.
But Sanchez’s “biggest dream” was to set up a pet food pantry within walking distance of the Tree Streets neighborhood, a densely populated area bounded by Park, Ash, Jefferson, Birch and Maple streets and considered one of the poorest in Maine.
The Human Society already has a once-weekly pet food pantry but its location on Strawberry Avenue makes it difficult for anyone without transportation to get there and bring back bulky items.
The pet food pantry is for anyone who needs that resource, Sanchez said, “but the reason we wanted it so close to the Tree Streets is because there is a large need in the streets for pet resources.”
No longer is that a concern. Kommunity Kritters and the Humane Society established a pet food pantry inside Kaydenz Kitchen’s second location at 155 Lisbon St., just a block away from Kennedy Park, which is within the Tree Streets neighborhood. The pet food pantry is open the same hours as Kaydenz Kitchen, five days a week.
“We do the best we can to listen to what people need and why. I mean, that’s how it started,” Sanchez said.
“I really care about the Tree Streets and I know the plight. I mean, I know what it’s like.”
She said Kevin Boilard, who is Kayden’s father and runs a resale closet and food pantry, says people come in nearly every day they’re open looking for resources for their pets.
But that’s not all.
Sanchez put about half of the grant funds toward purchasing 10 pet waste stations for the neighborhood that will be maintained in conjunction with Lewiston Public Works. She expects those to be installed in the spring.
As Sanchez and her “cohort-in-crime,” Larissa Ryerson, work to get a website up and running, she’s invited community members to get involved on Kommunity Kritter’s Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/kommunitykritters.
For more information about the Kommunity Kritters pet food pantry, visit Kaydenz Kitchen at 155 Lisbon St. or call (207) 577-7942. Kaydenz Kitchen is open from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 5 p.m. weekdays except Wednesday; and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.