Lisa Bekiaris can’t remember any time where the welfare of animals wasn’t forefront on her mind.
She grew up around animals in Maryland, and was always quite involved with her 4-H program there. When Bekiaris moved to Florida several years ago, she stayed busy with work and other projects. But in 2008, she read a newspaper story that would change her focus.
“It was a story about the tough times people were having, and many of them couldn’t even afford pet food,” she said.
While a lot of needed attention goes to finding pets a home, there are many times when pets might have a home, but because of financial or health issues of their owners, their bellies go empty. Or just as bad, they are full, but their owners are not.
“I have had people tell me, ‘I didn’t eat today because I had to buy dog food,’” Bekiaris said. “We as humans can go out and ask for help, but our animals solely rely on us as a pet parent, and too often we’ll make sacrifices for ourselves to keep them fed.”
Bekiaris decided to take action, and in late 2008, she started Raffle Rescue. The idea was to make sure pets had the food they needed so owners and their animals can stay together, and no one has to make unnecessary sacrifices.
She collects food and money from donors all over the county, many who make the trip to her Hudson farm. In 2013 alone, Raffle Rescue provided 27,500 pounds of food to animals. Most of it is distributed from Bekiaris’ farm, but some of it gets delivered thanks to the Meals on Wheels program.
Some might question why someone who struggles to support themselves would also try to support an animal, but the issue is not as black and white as it may seem, Bekiaris said. Many got pets when they were not struggling, but later fell on hard times. For a lot of shut-ins, for example, their pet is the only company they have.
“Pets aren’t just a piece of property. You can’t just get rid of it when it becomes too expensive,” Bekiaris said. “You took that animal into your life to care for it, and just because things get rough and difficult, you can’t just send them away. It would be just like sending away a family member.”
Bekiaris is not the first organization to raise money to feed pets in need, but she may be the first to take her approach. Instead of simply asking for cash donations, Bekiaris provides incentives to give in the form of raffles.
Various companies donate or provide significant discounts for prizes, and Bekiaris uses that to give away. Money is used to make up shortfalls in food, or sometimes to provide food that may not be as easily dropped off.
“We serve mostly dogs and cats, but we will not turn away any animal that someone can prove is their legal pet,” Bekiaris said. “That could be a pig, a goat. All you need is the documentation, and we will help you.”
One family who receives help has a horse, and Raffle Rescue volunteers drop off hay to help keep her fed. Hay, however is expensive — more than $70 a bale — and horses typically eat two of them a month, Bekiaris said.
Although Raffle Rescue started as a one-woman operation, it has since grown to need a number of volunteers, especially drivers to deliver food, and people to promote the various raffles the organization is conducting. She also is looking for other places around Pasco County that might be interested in becoming pet food pickup sites, especially on the eastern side of the county.
Bekiaris, however, isn’t stopping there. She wants to expand her efforts in the near future to include an animal clinic on her farm, and even more ambitious, mobile units.
Right now, some of the closest spay, neuter and vaccination clinics are in the New Port Richey area, Tampa or Brooksville. What’s holding those plans back, however, is simply staffing.
“I have a building already here. I just need to find veterinarians willing to work with me to make it happen,” Bekiaris said. “We want our services to be low-cost, or even free.”
Bekiaris also is always looking for pets in need. Her requirements are simple: be a resident of Pasco County, get some type of government assistance like welfare or disability, and something that shows you’re the legal pet owner.
“After all that, we’ll make one home visit, and determine whether you need to get food delivered, or if you can come and pick it up,” she said.
Raffle Rescue is a 501(c)(3), and donations may be tax-deductible.
To learn more about the organization, visit RaffleRescue.org, or call (727) 697-7034.
Published March 26, 2014
Want to see this story in print? Check out our new free e-edition! Get started by clicking here.