AUGUSTA — Amy Buxton, advocate for the underdog, wouldn’t just be happy a new pet pantry is opening next month to help people in need feed and care for their pets.

She’d be right there volunteering, doing what she was known for before she died of a sudden illness in 2012 — helping people and helping animals.

But despite the death of the Augusta native, Cony graduate and University of Maine nursing student at just 26 years old, her name will live on for a cause that was near and dear to her heart, said Buxton’s mother, Cony teacher Ann Buxton, of Augusta.

“She’d be all for it, and right here volunteering,” Ann Buxton said of her daughter, who volunteered to transport dogs to safe homes for Almost Home Rescue, a Maine-based group that rescues and finds homes for stray, abandoned and surrendered dogs from high kill shelters. “She would be very pleased so many people want to do something to help animals.”

The Amy Buxton Pet Pantry is scheduled to open April 12 at the South Parish Congregational Church at 9 Church St. in Augusta.

Work is underway to convert a small room in the basement of the church into a pet pantry to hold pet food and supplies such as cat litter and leashes. The items will be available at no charge to people who have financial hardships, senior citizens, people who are disabled or homeless and other pet owners in need.

Organizers of the pantry, and the leader of the local animal shelter, hope the pantry will help people who temporarily lack the money to feed and care for their pets so they can keep their beloved animals.

Hillary Roberts, executive director of the Kennebec Valley Humane Society, said financial troubles are a major reason some people have to surrender their animals to the shelter.

“They’re making what is often a heart-breaking decision,” Roberts said. “I think this is a great idea. It can be a way to help prevent people from having to give away pets, for not being able to afford food. There are some well-intentioned pet owners that struggle at times. But people’s lives change. They may struggle, financially, for a while, but then rebound and be able to keep their animals.”

The Rev. Jane MacIntyre of South Parish Congregational Church said spending time with pets can be therapeutic for people and often pets are a person’s only companion.

She said people struggling to make ends meet “need that furry unconditional love just as much as anybody else.”

Kim Perkins, of Augusta, a church member helping to establish the pet pantry, said the pantry is meant to provide temporary assistance with pet food and supplies for people who need it. It is not meant, she said, to encourage people without the financial means to go out and get a pet, thinking that others will provide food for their new animal.

Perkins said the idea grew from church members who wanted to do something to help people and pets, and something to honor the memory of Amy Buxton who “grew up in this church,” her mother said.

The pantry will be open every second and fourth Saturday of the month, following the April 12 projected opening, initially for one hour, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Volunteers and donations are welcome, MacIntyre said.

MacIntyre said the church is contacting local pet stores to ask for donations, and hope businesses in the area will put collection boxes out where employees and visitors can leave donations for the pet pantry.

Christ Church Episcopal in Gardiner opened its St. Francis of Assisi Pet Pantry in January of 2012, and demand has been high for the food, toys, flea and tick medication and other pet items it provides to local residents who can’t afford those items on their own, said Martha Chase, parish administrator.

“From time to time our shelves are almost empty, because of the sheer need in the area,” Chase said. “There is certainly a demand. Thankfully there are a lot of generous people.”

Chase said the Gardiner church gets pet food and other items donated by parishioners of the church, as well as from the Richmond Food Bank.

The St. Francis of Assisi Pet Pantry also distributes and accepts donations of pet items.

The pet pantry at Christ Church also provides pet food to the Gardiner food bank Chrysalis Place, which it distributes to clients who need help feeding their pets.

Roberts, at the local animal shelter, said she doesn’t consider the pet pantries competition for donations.

“I see it as another resource in the community,” Roberts said. “We need to make sure we’re protecting vulnerable animals first. That’s what we’re here to do.”

Amy Buxton, whose two rescued dogs, Melina and Ollie, live with her mom, is also the inspiration and namesake of the Amy Buxton Underdog Jog, a 5K run and walk at Cony High School begun last year and scheduled this year for June 21. Proceeds from the event will go to Almost Home Rescue, Kennebec Valley Humane Society, and Family Violence Project. Some 400 people participated last year, raising $11,000.

Keith Edwards – 621-5647 [email protected] Twitter: @kedwardskj