Victoria O'Connell created a pet food pantry called Old Mother Hubbard's Cupboard at the Feeding South Dakota food bank in Rapid City. O'Connel will also be working in her dog costume to help promote the pet food pantry. (Ryan Soderlin/Journal staff)

Victoria O'Connell would be devastated if today's tough economy left her family unable to feed any of its numerous pets, so she created a pet-food pantry to help those who are struggling to feed their own animal friends.

"It just popped into my head," 13-year-old Victoria said of her community service idea. Old Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, which opened for donations and distributions last week at the Feeding South Dakota food pantry at 814 N. Maple Ave., will provide free food for dogs, cats and other furry and feathered friends. It also earned Victoria her Silver Award in Girl Scouts. The Silver Award is O'Connell's next step toward her goal of achieving Girl Scouting's highest honor.

More than 40 donations of wet and dry pet food - even hamster feed -- already fill the thrift-store cupboard. Unlike the bare cupboard of nursery rhyme lore, Victoria plans to keep it well-stocked with the help of a doggie mascot costume that she will wear for parades and other promotional events to drum up donations.

She will be in doggie character as part of KOTA's Care and Share campaign during the Parade of Lights on Nov. 26, handing out some of the fliers she designed to increase public awareness for the new pet pantry. She plans a mascot-naming contest to be held later as a fundraiser for Old Mother Hubbard's Cupboard. The cocker spaniel-looking costume was purchased on eBay with help from Pet Giant, she said.

An animal lover, Victoria visits the Humane Society at least once a month. "They love me and I love them," she said of animals.

She was saddened one day as she watched a woman relinquish a cat that she could no longer afford to keep.

"I saw her crying. It was very sad," she said. More than 7,000 animals arrive at the Humane Society of the Black Hills each year, and one-third of those are owner-surrendered. Her goal is to prevent pets from being relinquished simply because people are having a hard time feeding them.

Owners who are struggling financially can turn to the food bank for some help, so they won't have to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their pet, she said.

"There's a guy who comes to the food pantry who brings his dog along. Now, they can help his dog, too," she said.

Her own family has three rescued dogs: a German shepherd named Dallas, a standard poodle named Cardi and a Chinese pug named Ming, plus three rabbits and a few birds.

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Victoria's parents, Jim and Sheri O'Connell, are impressed with their oldest daughter's initiative, but not surprised by it. The West Middle School eighth-grader also ran a lemonade stand for the past three years. She uses the proceeds to buy items for Black Hills Federal Credit Union's annual school supply drive. "This year, she raised $200 that she took down there. The back of our Yukon was filled with them," Jim said.

Anyone wishing to donate to Old Mother Hubbard's Cupboard can call 718-9590 or drop off items between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the food bank.

Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or mary.garrigan@rapidcityjournal.com


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