Animal food bank in Antwerp aims to bring community closer with social initiatives

An animal food bank is looking for volunteers and hopes to see donations rise as the holidays draw closer. Alexander Mc Intosh, the head of the donation centre, has big plans to help pets and their owners in the community of Seefhoek, Antwerp.

The initiative Koffie met Koekskes (coffee with cookies) aims to alleviate some of the financial burdens unhoused or low-income citizens experience by providing free supplies for their pets. “Many times, people will give some of their food to their pets or use the very little money they have to buy food for them instead of themselves,” Mc Intosh says.

He knows first-hand the importance of companionship through animals when people are isolated or lonely and believes in making that accessible. He took over the organisation in September after volunteering for them part-time for 11 years. It also functions as a social café where individuals can come in for a warm drink, a cookie and a chat.

The non-profit hopes people will consider donating more during the holidays and is actively seeking additional volunteers, especially those who can donate their time and skills to manage the online face of the group. Currently, Mc Intosh runs the organisation himself with one other volunteer.

Inspiration for outreach

Although he was born in Scotland and lived there until he was 24, Mc Intosh considers Dutch his first language. He moved to Ostend 33 years ago and three years later moved to Antwerp, where he has lived ever since. After Dutch, he is fluent in German. “French is next,” he said, in hopes he would then speak the three official languages of Belgium.

No stranger to hardship, Mc Intosh has faced difficulties in his life. “I had to live on just water for five weeks at one point,” he said of a particularly dark moment. During what he calls a significant life crisis, a white cat appeared outside his apartment window, and that was the moment, he said, that changed his life: “God sent me a cat.” After a week of leaving food out for the cat, she came into his apartment and never left. He took this as a sign to devote his life to helping animals and other people who are struggling.

Alexander Mc Intosh shares a photo of Cleopatra © HANNAH MOSS
Alexander Mc Intosh shares a photo of Cleopatra © HANNAH MOSS

That trajectory was further solidified when his cat, Cleopatra, fell ill 13 years later. After treatment, a week in hospital and her eventual death, Mc Intosh was left with a bill for 1,800 euros. “I thought, this is already very expensive for me; what about other people who cannot afford this?” Inspired by this thought, he put his plans into action to raise money as a means of helping those less fortunate pay for their pets' needs.

When the original Koffie met Koekskes was set to disband this past year, he took over, saying: “It's too important to the neighbourhood for it to go”. He then looked for a physical location not only to house the supplies but to implement a social element to the cause. “You feel at home here. That’s my idea: to help people with everything I can,” he says of the storefront he recently acquired.

Helping everyone

In Seefhoek, Mc Intosh welcomes people from all backgrounds into his centre. While the main reason for a visit is to procure pet supplies, a few meetings have led to more. Mc Intosh recounted a story of an elderly woman who stopped by.

“I saw she wanted to talk but wouldn’t, so she sat down for a coffee with me, and I asked her: What problem are you dealing with right now?” The woman told Mc Intosh she had very little money but needed food for her fish. Once he learned she also had problems cleaning her fish tank, he took it upon himself to go over and clean the tank himself.

Mc Intosh learned that another visitor, a man of Moroccan descent, had been born in Belgium but still did not have Belgian nationality. While the man’s wife and children had Belgian passports, he was unable to finish his own procedure. Mc Intosh told the man to come back the following week and spent the next days on the phone with city hall helping the man acquire Belgian nationality. When he returned the following week, Mc Intosh helped him arrange the paperwork and finish the process.

While the community in Seefhoek benefits regularly from his selflessness, Mc Intosh’s work has not gone unnoticed by institutions of power. After writing to the palace explaining his project, he received a phone call from the King's secretary congratulating him on his work and initiative on behalf of the Royal family.

Additionally, he was invited for a private appointment with Interior minister Annelies Verlinden, to discuss the struggle his community faces and the future of support. “We spoke for three hours; she is very progressive in thinking about how to help,” says McIntosh.

"If the people aren’t in a good situation, they can’t give a good situation to their animals"

While he appreciates and advocates for the politicians he met from Verlinden's CD&V party, he is quick to condemn what he believes is a lack of action from others. “Every politician says that children are the future, and then they turn away when kids are living in poverty," he says. He refers to local families he knows who cannot always send their children to school with lunch.

“What can we do to end this situation? We have to do it ourselves because our leaders are not doing it,” he says. He has been formulating a plan to use community engagement to help provide nutritious meals for local students by gathering volunteers to cook healthy meals every school day.

With social outreach always at the forefront of his mind, Mc Intosh has concrete plans for the future, including funding for a pet ambulance and a place for animal recovery after treatment, all in the name of sparing costs for those struggling. "It's step by step," he says.

100 per cent of donations go to Koffie met Koekskes, where food, collars, clothing, toys and other pet essentials are available. Mc Intosh receives no funding from the government, but that does not deter him from his mission.“The animals have the people, and if the people aren’t in a good situation, they can’t give a good situation to their animals. I want to be able to help.”

To find out more about the organisation and to donate, see the website.


#FlandersNewsService | Alexander Mc Intosh at Koffie met Koekskes © PHOTO HANNAH MOSS

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