FAIRFIELD CENTER – Cynthia Soma-Hernandez brought Lady Guinevere, one of her three Jack Russell terriers, to the Pet Food Pantry when she picked up free food for her dogs and cat Friday.

Soma-Hernandez, a retired teacher from North Anson who said she has encountered a string of bad fortune and unexpected expenses this year, said she liked the sense of camaraderie among people who love animals.

Count Alice Pincoske and five other volunteers who have managed the pantry for two-plus years among the ranks of those who adore pets.

As proof, each month they raise money and buy about $1,200 worth of food for dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and fish, then distribute it at Victor Grange. The group has also paid for pets to be neutered.

But all the work is tiring out the half-dozen volunteers. And to compound the problem, Pincoske said the Grange is buttoning up for the winter Nov. 1 and the pantry doesn’t have another place lined up to distribute the 2,000 pounds of cat and dog food per month.

Meanwhile, the need seems to be growing.

The pantry is open from 2 to 4 p.m. on the fourth Friday of each month, but Pincoske said it’s common for people to begin lining up at noon.

She said 24 new people were among the 83 who visited the pantry for the first time in August. Last week, 12 more first-time families came.

Joe Fisher, president of the organization, said three people told him Friday that they recently lost their jobs.

Volunteer Katherine Gifford said the pantry used to have about a month’s worth of food in storage. But on Friday, volunteers had to ration cat food so there would be enough to make it until closing time.

There are contribution canisters in local convenience stores, and larger retailers periodically give the group bags of food and sometimes litter, flea soap and collars. But Pincoske said more — more volunteers, more donations and more money — is needed to keep the pantry going.

“We have a business plan and bylaws and we scratch and scrape and get some food donated, but we are hand to mouth,” Pincoske said. She encouraged people who love pets to step up and join the group.

“It breaks my heart to see people who have been laid off (and are struggling to keep their pets),” Pincoske said. “They need somebody to love and somebody to love them, and pets provide that.”

For Leann Baker of Waterville, who said she was recently laid off from her full-time job, the pantry has allowed her to keep her companions.

“It’s been a huge help. I’m hoping I won’t have to re-home them,” she said.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Beth Staples can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

[email protected]