The Mini Mustangs, a local youth horse club, held its fifth annual food drive and fundraiser, Dec. 21, on the Durham town green. The event was to benefit Help Willy’s Friends, a group that collects donations to support animal shelters and rescue groups.
Fundraiser organizers were initially concerned about the event’s success because a snowstorm forced it to be rescheduled from the previous weekend. The change was not a deterrent however, as donations proved.
The group raised almost $450 and over 150 pounds of food at the event.
The Mini Mustangs were formed six years ago under the direction of Pat Bandzes and Debbie Sommers, of Middlefield, as a group of what Bandzes called “young, crazy, horse girls.”
“We are a 4-H horse club,” said Bandzes. “Our club is primarily educational, but we also do community service.”
The original Mini Mustangs are now in middle school and high school. “They’re not so mini any more, but that’s still our name,” Bandzes said.
The club has since relocated to Chester, but still consists of mostly Durham and Middlefield members. The food drive has been a part of the Mini Mustangs’ community service through the years. According to Bandzes the original event involved a trail ride and a door to door collection with horses, but that was not the most convenient method. Then the event, called “Riding for Rudolph,” became stationary, first on the Middlefield town green and for the last two years on Durham’s town green.
At this year’s food drive, one horse was dressed up as Rudolph and another as Rudolph’s helper and residents could meet, pet and get pictures with the horses while making a donation to Help Willy’s Friends.
“They’re a good group of kids,” said Mark Paturzo, founder of Help Willy’s Friends. “They do it for us every year and the locals kind of know after a while and will come down with food and supplies or cash.”
“We’ve been helping shelters and rescue groups for seven years now,” Paturzo said. “We’ve helped nearly 200 shelters and organizations since our inception.”
Paturzo expressed appreciation for the dedication and generosity of the Mini Mustangs and the community.
Paturzo said that the food has already been distributed. Because of spoilage potential, donated food has to be turned over quickly. Monetary donations give the organizations flexibility to help animals. One of the needs that is not always met in food drives is cat food, Paturzo said, which can go both to shelter’s and to help feed homeless cats. Noting the increase in demands and the increase in donations to Help Willy’s Friends, Paturzo said that the next goal for his organization is a permanent warehouse.
The largest event for Help Willy’s Friends, the annual pet fair, also involves the Mini Mustangs. In the past the horse group has set up a table at the fair and while they did their own fundraising, they collected donations for Help Willy’s Friends.
“We try to do something nice for each other,” Paturzo said.
According to Bandzes, the Mini Mustangs and Riding for Rudolph get bigger every year. The group plans to continue their community service and their association with Help Willy’s Friends.