ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – A St. Petersburg man is ensuring fewer animals go hungry in Pinellas County with a roadside pet food pantry in honor of his dog deceased.
Mark James said he lost his dog, Hank, to spleen cancer a few months ago. He knew he wanted to give back in honor of his pup, but he didn’t know what to do.
“I was trying to find a way to pay homage to him. And it had occurred to me, because I had seen roadside pantries for people and I had seen these little bookcases, those roadside bookcases. I thought, you know, “maybe I could make a roadside pet pantry,” he said.
He said he had been passing on the idea for a while, thinking a roadside pet pantry must have been too common. A few weeks later, he decided to do some research and discovered that was not the case.
James notes that brick-and-mortar locations often distribute pet food to those who need it, but said they are often open maybe one day a week at certain times.
“The problem is that people in need can’t necessarily show up during those hours. Then you have to provide documents to show them that you are actually unemployed, unemployed and looking for work,” he said. “You know, a lot of people just can’t afford to do all of that.”
James knows firsthand how pet owners will put their furry loved ones first.
“My experience has shown that people who are going through tough times often take better care of their pets than they do themselves,” he said.
Hanks Bark Box ascended to the northwest corner of 65th Street and 3rd Avenue South in St. Petersburg in October 2021.
It spread like wildfire on social media. James created a Facebook page for the pet food pantry and shared with popular groups.
“So I said, ‘if you know anyone who’s fallen on hard times and needs pet food, here’s this box, help yourself, it’s open 24/7 , stop by and get what you need,” he said.
People started dropping off donations at the pantry, which James said he never intended to happen.
“I am stunned by the whole donation process. When I did this I never intended to solicit donations, maybe I’m just being stupid, but it never occurred to me that people would donate. You know? I was just going to fund this out of my own pocket and that’s what we were going to do,” he said.
He received – and distributed – not only cat and dog food, but also ferret and rabbit food.
James said he has to buy a cabinet for his garage for all the donated food he gets. He himself, of course, contributes to this.
“I buy as much as I can, when I can when I go to the store. Donations have now reached a point where probably 50%, maybe even a little over 50% of what I give is in donations.
To date, James and Hanks Bark Box have distributed 1,731 pounds of dry dog food, 494 boxes of dog food, 868 pounds of dry cat food and 2,165 boxes of cat food.
“When you look at the volume of food we’ve given out, it’s just mind-boggling to me that this hasn’t been done before,” James said.
Many people wanting to donate have asked James if he has a GoFundMe. While he doesn’t, he created an Amazon wishlist of things Hanks Bark Box needs.