WISH Patrol helps keep Anderson pet food pantry from shutting down

ANDERSON, Ind. (WISH) — As any pet owner knows, our animals quickly become part of the family.

But when money gets tight and food runs out, families can sometimes be faced with a decision no one ever wants to make. Each day, countless people across central Indiana are forced to surrender their pets because they simply cannot afford to feed them. 

Tucked inside an old Anderson elementary school, the Anderson Preparatory Academy has created an incubator for nonprofits. And that’s why Ernie’s Heart Pet Food Pantry calls the school home.

“Before it all started, I was at one of the shelters,” said Jan Smith, founder of Ernie’s Heart Pet Food Pantry.

“A boy came in with his mom, and they had their little dog and they were both visibly upset. I was volunteering there, and the little boy tugged on his mom’s arm and said ‘Mommy, if I don’t eat so much, can we keep the dog?’ And I just went, ‘OK, that’s wrong.’”

So Smith went home and brainstormed.

“I just kind of woke up on my 50th birthday and I thought, ‘Why don’t I have a birthday wish? I want 50 bags of dog food,’ said Smith.

After posting her birthday wish on Facebook, donations starting flooding in. In one week, 112 bags of dog food were donated, and Ernie’s Heart Pet Food Pantry was born.

“We started off helping about 30 families out of my husband’s trailer in some parking lots for awhile,” said Smith.

Ernie’s Heart serves an average of 200 families every month, feeding almost a thousand pets.

But as demand grew and food supplies dwindled, the pantry — run solely on donations — faced an uncertain future.

“There were a couple times three or four months ago that we almost didn’t open; we almost shut down,” said Smith.

When the WISH Patrol found out, we couldn’t get to Anderson fast enough. Once again, our community business partners came together to help make sure Ernie’s Heart will be around for years to come.

Tom Dock and Robert Thomas from Noah’s Animal Hospitals teamed up with Hill’s Science Diet to donate 1,200 pounds of dog food.

The team at Granite Transformations donated $500.

Hoosier Park Racing & Casino donated $5,000, money Smith says will be used to expand the pantry into other central Indiana cities.

“We caught wind that you were having some tough times,” said Mark Thacker with Hoosier Park Racing & Casino. “We really strive to be involved in the community, and we appreciate everything you guys do.”

Anderson Mayor Thomas Broderick also wanted to recognize Smith and Ernie’s Heart Pet Food Pantry for their impact on the community, proclaiming April 19 as Ernie’s Heart Day in the city of Anderson.

“My son was in an accident, and it’s been hard times,” said Princess Grinston, a visitor to the pantry. “To come in and see how these people are so willing to help, people that they don’t even know.”

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