Mother-daughter team fights hunger, in people and their pets

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On a Tuesday afternoon, Theresa Greenwood and her daughter, Elizabeth, stood outside a health clinic in south Richmond handing out food.

“Are you hungry?” Elizabeth, 14, asked a man walking past.

She waved him over to a cardboard box filled with loaves of bread, pastries, bottled water and, sitting beside the human food, a bag of dog kibble. Elizabeth suggested he grab a bag of chocolate-filled pastries, and the man took them with a smile.

Theresa and Elizabeth founded Richmond Street Angels only one month ago, but already they have forged relationships with many of Richmond’s struggling residents and their pets. Their aim is to help not only man, but also man’s best friend.

The two came up with the concept over the summer when they saw a homeless man struggling to take care of his dog. They eventually brought the dog, Leisha-Lee, to the Milo Foundation, a no-kill pet shelter in Point Richmond, where she was adopted.

Now, Elizabeth and her mother spend three days a week picking up leftover food from the Bay Area Rescue Mission and handing it out to the needy, along with pet food, leashes and collars that they pay for themselves.

Elizabeth explained her love of pets: “They see you at your worst, they see you at your best, they’re just always there for you,” she said. “It’s good for everyone’s mental health.”

Harmony Rhoades, Research Assistant Professor at the USC Suzanne Dowark-Peck School of Social Work, agrees. In 2015, Rhoades, a sociologist, co-authored a study on pet ownership and mental health among homeless youth in Southern California. The study, one of the first of its kind, found that although homeless youth with pets had more difficulties finding housing, they reported fewer symptoms of depression and loneliness than their peers without pets.

“I believe those experiencing homelessness can be wonderful and caring pet owners,” Rhodes said via email. “The bond between human and animal can go a long way in helping to combat the isolation and trauma so many homeless persons experience.”

Shaggy, a man who lives in a small encampment behind industrial buildings near Marina Bay, relied on Theresa and Elizabeth to provide food for his 11-month old dog, Deuce. Part guard-dog and part companion, “she’ll always love me,” Shaggy said of Deuce. On the occasions when he hasn’t been able to provide nutritious food for her, Richmond Street Angels “saved my behind,” he said.

Elizabeth and Theresa have both been amazed at the lengths to which they’ve seen homeless people go to provide for their pets.

“I love how people take such good care of their pets,” said Elizabeth.  “They’ll be hungry, and their pets will have a clean haircut.”

Many dog owners are able to microchip and vaccinate their pets at low-cost clinics, such as the Paw Fund or the East Bay SPCA. However, some still struggle to provide non-human food for their pets and pay for more expensive procedures, such as spay and neuter surgeries.

Theresa and Elizabeth are happy to help with those services, and they hope to eventually do even more.

“We want to save up and buy a building so we can make our own [homeless] shelter,” said Elizabeth. “But we also want a dog rescue in the same place.”

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