How to start a pet food bank: 10 steps to helping pets on a shoestring budget

Terry May and Susan Fritz founded Space Coast Kibble Kitchen in Brevard County, FL, to help families struggling with financial difficulties keep their pets. With help from Cynthia Koppler of the Bright Paws Pet Food Bank by Bright Star, they are working to make sure no local pets are surrendered due to economic hardship. Today they share some tips for starting a pet food bank in your community.

As cousins and longtime animal activists, we decided to come up with a way to help keep Brevard County families and pets together while reducing the burden on local shelters. Throughout our lives, we’ve been blessed with having countless animals join our families and enrich our lives beyond belief, and we can’t imagine being placed in the unthinkable position of choosing between giving up our pets and making them go hungry. This was our motivation for starting Space Coast Kibble Kitchen.

If you’d like to start a pet food bank in your town, here’s a 10-step guide to start you on this incredibly rewarding journey.

Step 1: Create a Plan. The plan should clearly define your mission, benefits and purpose, and the cost of getting your food bank started and sustained. It should also include a board of directors, preferably people who share the same love for animals and have areas of expertise that will benefit your organization (e.g. business owners and experts in inventory, bookkeeping and publicity). Your board of directors will help you determine a name for your food bank and the needs of the organization and keep you focused on your primary mission. An odd number of board members is ideal, should a vote be required to make a business decision.
Cost: $0

Step 2: Get Incorporated. Go to your local county clerk’s office and file for Articles of Incorporation for Nonprofits, which will protect your board and staff from legal liabilities. Each state has its own incorporation fee (in Florida, it’s $75). This process takes a few days. Once incorporated, file for a tax ID number with the IRS by calling 1-800-829-4933. This is free and happens instantly.
Estimated cost: $30-125

Step 3: File for 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Status. Find someone well-versed in non-profit accounting to help you file. This is a critical step and a daunting task, but with the right accountant, preferably one willing to donate his or her time, it will lead to tax-exemption and grant money, which will help sustain your organization. The 501(c)(3) filing requires paperwork that can be downloaded from the IRS Web site. You can file on your own, but it’s not recommended.
Cost: $400

Step 4: Set up Your Business. Plan to store the food at your home or find a business willing to donate part of its storage facility.

Set up a low-cost phone system, such as MagicJack, which includes local and long-distance calling, a phone number, voicemail, caller ID, etc.

Set up a checking account for your business, establish a regular food distribution location (get a local business to donate a parking lot) and hours of operation. Start out as you mean to continue: For example, we distribute on the second Saturday of each month.
Cost for the MagicJack phone system: $39.95; $19.95 annual renewal fee

Step 5: Build you Brand and Start Marketing. Create a logo and tagline that represents your mission and distinguishes you from others. Find a designer to create it for free (check out for volunteers) or purchase a stock photo online (for example, at, which gives you the copyright to the artwork.
Estimated cost: $75 for stock art

Step 6: Build an Online Community. Capitalize on free social networking by creating a free blog (for example, at, Facebook page and Twitter account for your business. Create a PayPal account, linked to your organization’s checking account, and post PayPal donation widgets to these sites to receive online donations.
Invite friends to read your blog and follow your organization on Facebook and Twitter (and ask them to invite their friends). Take advantage of Twitter’s hashtags, such as #Animals, #Dogs, #Cats, #Pets, #MeowMonday, #TweetAPetTues, #WoofWednesday, #Fursday and #FF. List your organization on Twitter directories such as, and to gain more followers.
Cost: $0

Step 7: Hold a Kickoff Fundraiser to Recoup Your Set -up Costs. Find a local restaurant willing to host your fundraiser and food drive. Get the owners to donate part of the proceeds from the event to your charity. Invite your pet -loving friends to come to the event via e-mail, your blog, Facebook, Twitter and word-of-mouth. Get local businesses to donate products and services to raffle off (and don’t stop there; continue the fundraisers and enlist local schools and businesses to conduct food drives).
Cost: $0

Step 8: Spread the Word with PR. Announce the opening of your food bank and your fundraisers/food drives by distributing a press release to local papers and radio and TV stations.
Cost: $0

Step 9: Partner with Others. If there’s another pet food bank in town, approach them to partner with you. You both have the same mission and partnering will reduce abuse of the system and help you share expenses. We partnered with Bright Paws Pet Food Bank, a project associated with Hospice of Health First’s Bright Star Center for Grieving Children & Families. In operation for over a year, Bright Paws has distributed more than 30,000 pounds of pet food and helped more than 500 families.

Work with your local pet shelters and pet-supply stores to see if they’ll donate stock that is set to expire to your food bank.
Cost: $0

Step 10: Distribute Pet Food to Qualified People. Have applicants register and sign a form stating that without this assistance, they would be faced with surrendering their pets. Qualified people are either unemployed or disabled. However, some people can’t show proof if they’re no longer collecting unemployment checks, so keep in mind that qualifying is a judgment call. That said, if you can afford to feed your pets, you probably won’t stand in a long line on Saturday morning to receive free pet food.

Together with Bright Paws, Space Coast Kibble Kitchen recently held its first distribution day and helped 109 families keep their pets.
Total cost: Priceless!!

Space Coast Kibble Kitchen and Bright Paws are happy to assist anyone who wants to set up a local pet food bank. We’ll share our experiences, guidance and good wishes to those who share our interest in helping people facing financial crisis save their pets. You can email Terry, Susan, and Cynthia with questions.

Let’s fill the bowls together!

Thank you to for posting our story.

Are you going to start a pet food pantry or do you volunteer with one now? Tell us about it!

Additional resources:
The Pet Pantry
Cincinnati Pet Food Pantry
Save Our Pets Food Bank: National Locations
Starting a Non-Profit Organization to Help Animals
Obtaining a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Status