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January 13, 2011

Home-Grown Help

Janet Snyder's garden feeds her coworkers and supports local animal-rescue groups

Part of an online series profiling staff and friends who volunteer "Off Duty"

  • During the growing season, Janet Snyder's coworkers look forward to sights like this in the lunchroom. Janet Snyder/HSUS

  • The Snyders work hard to cultivate an oasis of green (and red, yellow, and purple) in the face of development. Janet Snyder/HSUS

  • Janet enjoys sharing the fruits—and flowers—of her labor with her colleagues. Janet Snyder/HSUS

  • The reward? Lots of gratitude and generous donations to a worthy animal rescue group. Janet Snyder/HSUS

Read more Off Duty stories»

Like most people who work at The Humane Society of the United States, Janet Snyder has a passion for animals. Gardening is her other passion, and she’s been able to combine the two in a way that helps out local animal rescue groups.

Snyder, the director of outreach and training for the Urban Wildlife Program, and her husband, John, vice president of Companion Animals, work at The HSUS’s Gaithersburg office. They’ve created a robust organic garden at their home nearby, which is a perfect place for her to test the latest humane methods of keeping their wild neighbors from eating too many of their crops. ("I've started enjoying planting for the animals as much as I do planting for us," she says.) When their garden overflows with vegetables, herbs, and flowers, Janet shares with her lucky colleagues.

“Gardening is my therapy,” she says, “and to be able to help animals and humans with the money we get in donations—it's just a great feeling.”

Her coworkers look forward to Snyder’s homegrown produce so much that most of the day’s harvest gets snapped up before the middle of the day. (Her very hottest peppers—she and her husband are fearless heat-seekers—may take a few hours longer to find homes.)

An idea sprouts

In 2005, inspiration struck. For years, a group of HSUS employees made lunch once a month to distribute at a local Montgomery County homeless shelter. After a while, donations started lagging, and the Snyders thought why not put a sign and a collection canister next to each offering of veggies, herbs, and flowers, asking folks to make a donation to charity? That first year, they collected $100 for lunch at the local homeless shelter, and the donations have been growing ever since.

“There is a great joy that comes from sharing what we grow—and the donations we collect as a result.” Snyder says.

And the donations grow

Snyder’s garden goodies spurred HSUS employees to give generously: $200 to Second Chance Wildlife Center in 2006, $365 to Days End Farm Horse Rescue in 2007, $465 to Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary in 2008, $665 to Small Angels Rescue in 2009.

In 2010, she collected $1,065 for Project Perry, a parrot sanctuary in central Virginia. The Snyders had the opportunity to present a check personally to Matt Smith, executive director “I think Matt was stunned,” she recalls, “when he saw the amount and I explained how we raised the money.”

As proof that charity has a tendency to cross pollinate, the Snyder produce isn’t alone on the lunchroom table any more: Other HSUS staff have begun to contribute their own fruits and vegetables to the effort.

“A great feeling”

There’s nothing better, Snyder says, than when she gets to write out the check at the end of the year and give it to a rescue group.

“Gardening is my therapy,” she says, “and to be able to help animals and humans with the money we get in donations—it's just a great feeling.”

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