From helping Guilford residents put food on the table to bringing the PuppyUp Shoreline Walk to town, when Barbara “Barb” Kenney finds an important cause, she embraces it—and has a knack for getting the community involved to get results.
“I’m the kind of person who can come up with an idea and then I can pull people in; and if I give them ownership of it, they’ll come back,” says Barb.
Barb, a Guilford resident of 43 years, got her start in organizing local community service efforts by simply responding to a need without questioning whether she would succeed. She remembers one holiday season in a neighboring town, when robbers took all of the toy donations gathered by the Salvation Army for kids in need.
“It came on the news that morning, and that’s what started me,” says Barb. “I got a bunch of people together at Walmart that morning and by the end of the day, we had more toys than had been stolen.”
Soon after, Barb began an effort that is still, to this day, filling an incredible need in Guilford: the annual Holiday Food Drive in the Shoreline Plaza.
“My kids loved the toy drive, so we would always do something, and then when I realized the need in Guilford, I started with the food drive,” says Barb.
The mom of two got the effort underway during her time as a Guilford Boy Scout troop leader.
“Then, when I joined Guilford Veterinary Hospital [GVH] 21 years ago, I brought it here, and we’ve been putting it together ever since.”
Each year in December, Barb brings in a donated box truck and a group of volunteers, many from GVH, who brave the cold for 12 hours in order to collect food from shoppers. The gathered items go on to sustain the shelves of Guilford Food Bank for many weeks.
“We do all the holiday food baskets and pretty much fill the Food Bank for a while,” she says.
Barb recently joined Guilford Civic Women and helped the group put on a very successful food drive this summer to benefit Guilford Food Bank. This time of year, she’s particularly looking forward to seeing how much comes in during her 2016 Holiday Food Drive, set for Saturday, Dec. 17 in the Shoreline Plaza. For the first time, collection sites will be set up not only outside of Walmart, but in front of Big Y, as well.
“This year is my most exciting Food Drive,” says Barb. “We’re expecting a very big take—I’m guessing it will be doubled. We want to give it all to the Guilford Food Bank, so what I need to do now is find some additional storage!”
No doubt she will, but if anyone wants to help, she’s looking for available clean, dry storage space that is warm enough to that it won’t allow non-perishable boxed and canned food to freeze. Barb would welcome a call with any ideas about that at GVH at 203-453-2707.
Barb is the hospital’s purchasing manager and unofficial organizer of all events charitable. She says the support GVH has put behind her ideas to help others is hard to quantify, but basically, whatever she comes up with, they have her back. The Saw Mill Road location served as one of the start-up sites for another successful Guilford community service program Barb began in 2014, Project Sustainability.
Barb coordinates with GVH, local nurseries, and Guilford Food Bank for the seasonal produce growing program. The idea is to provide free vegetable plants to residents who then return half the harvest to the Food Bank. Project Sustainability has since grown into an integral seasonal support system for Guilford Food Bank, beyond what even Barb had imagined it could be.
“Because of articles that have been in the paper, a lot of people know about it now, and they don’t even pick up plants. They just know, ‘I’m going to take my extra produce to the Food Bank.’ When I go and drop stuff off on a Friday, I cannot believe the bushel baskets of food—there’s even potatoes, corn, and beets—all very good stuff,” says Barb. “It is wonderful to see. That was a very cool idea that came out very well.”
Five years ago, Barb got involved in supporting another very cool idea—PuppyUp. The national event gathers supporters at a one-day, two-mile mass dog walk outing to raise money to fund research of canine cancers.
Right now, Barb and co-organizer Valerie Kodman are gearing up to put on the PuppyUp Shoreline Walk at the Guilford Fairgrounds on Saturday, Oct. 30, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The two have run successful PuppyUp walks at Hammonasset Beach State Park for the past four years.
“My friend Valerie is a good friend with Luke Robinson, who founded PuppyUp,” says Barb. “Valerie has a [Peace Love V] food truck and Luke cooks with her—he’s called Chef Big Dog. So he’ll be here for the walk again this year,” says Barb. “We’re excited to have it at the Fairgrounds. We’re bringing in food trucks and a band, and we’re also having a Halloween costume contest for dogs. We’re already up on registrations by 25 percent.”
Day-of registration is available; more information is available at www.puppyup.org.
PuppyUp walks take place nationwide; the shoreline event organized by Barb and Valerie was the first to be held in Connecticut.
“In our second year, we raised more money than any other walk in the country,” says Barb.
To date, PuppyUp Shoreline Walk has contributed more than $118,000 for important canine cancer research that desperately needs support, says Barb.
“Cancer is so much more prevalent in dogs today, and there’s been very little research, so raising money for research is really, really important,” says Barb. “They’re finding the cancer in dogs is so closely related to cancer in humans, so doing comparative oncology is key. The first university study PuppyUp funded was comparative oncology to breast cancer and mammary cancer in dogs.”
GVH will be out in force to support Barb and PuppyUp Team Medalla, honoring a nine-year shepherd mix with cancer.
“He’s on his third round of chemo—he’s been in remission twice,” says Barb. “He seems to bounce in and out of remission.”
Medalla is very lucky dog, considering his start, she adds.
“His ‘mom’ was in Puerto Rico for work, and a friend told her she’d be coming home with a dog, because there are stray dogs everywhere,” says Barb. “And lo and behold she went for a walk and there was Medalla looking at her like, ‘Take me home.’ She brought him home.”
Pets who’ve lost their battle with cancer aren’t forgotten during the PuppyUp Shoreline Walk, she adds.
“There’s a very touching Memorial Wall at the walk, and people put pictures of their dogs up there. There are also tags to write their stories on,” says Barb.
Beloved pets who are still with us will be a big part of the mix on Oct. 30. Some 750 dog lovers are expected to turn out at the fairgrounds.
“We have many registrants with multiple dogs,” says Barb. “They’re all responsible dog owners and the dogs all get along. It’s heartwarming, when you look across the field, and you see hundreds of dogs walking with their owners in single file. It’s a beautiful scene.”