GARDINER — Alarmed by local reports of owners deserting their pets because they no longer can afford the cost of food, Syndi Holmes decided to help organize a pet food relief network.

Holmes said pet owners are struggling to survive the high cost of living in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

With her help, the Christ Church Episcopal has now established the St. Francis of Assisi Pet Pantry to assist people in the greater Gardiner area with dog and cat food and other pet supplies.

She said families need to remain intact, and for many, pets are a big part of a family unit. Holmes said pets contribute to maintaining psychological well-being and people’s health.

She knows that firsthand — her two West Highland terriers and two cats provided companionship and emotional support during her radiation treatment for uterine cancer. The 58-year-old home health nurse said it took months to qualify for disability, and she ended up borrowing money to pay her bills and buy food for herself and her pets.

“My pets were always there no matter if you’re sick or not able to get out of bed,” Holmes said Tuesday. “If I had a bad day — there’s a lot of side effects with the radiation — they hung out in bed with me. They were with me when there was nobody else.”

The Kennebec Valley Humane Society said three cats were found shivering and abandoned Friday morning on the steps outside its building.

Hillary Roberts, executive director of the Kennebec Valley Humane Society, said more and more animals are being left at the shelter because their owners can no longer afford to keep them. Roberts said financial reasons now account for about 40 percent of the animals surrendered to the society.

“Often, the owners state that they can no longer care for their pets because they have lost their job, are moving or are having other financial difficulties,” she said.

The United States Humane Society took note of the problem in 2008 at the height of the recession. Across the country, animal shelters were overwhelmed by pets surrendered by their owners who struggled with finances and home foreclosures.

Holmes said donations needed for the Gardiner pantry include dog and cat food, cat litter, over-the-counter flea medication and sprays or powders for home decontamination, over-the-counter de-worming medications, chew toys, litter boxes and leashes.

The Rev. George Lambert of Christ Church said the pantry is looking for collection sites, donors, volunteers and sponsors or parties interesting in hosting benefits.

The food and donations and the donors will be blessed Sunday. “After that, we’re open for business,” he said.

Holmes said she is working with Hannaford on a bottle drive and is talking to businesses about sponsoring fundraisers. Veterinary hospitals, churches, humane societies, town offices and food banks have been notified.

“We’re hoping for some referrals,” she said. “We have a parish group that goes out on visitations and if they see something they’re going to let us know. We hope other churches do the same.”

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]

HOW TO HELPAnyone wishing to make a donation to the St. Francis Pet Pantry can call Christ Church Episcopal’s parish office at 582-3354. Dropoff is from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the church Monday through Wednesday until alternative collection sites are established. Christ Church is at 2 Dresden St. in Gardiner.

Checks can be made out to St. Francis Pet Pantry/Christ Church and sent to Christ Church Episcopal, 2 Dresden St., Gardiner ME 04345.

In addition, the United States Humane Society offers several resources to help homeowners, mortgage lenders and shelters at

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