By Amy Lieberman
April 16, 2009
NEW YORK — Once an anomaly, pet food pantries are now “popping up across the country,” according to Ellen Gillmore, Best Friends Animal Society campaign coordinator.
It’s part of a movement to keep pets with their families, and out of overloaded animal shelters — a mission that has now been lent a helping hand by Best Friend’s new program, First Home, Forever Home.
The first step in ensuring that kind of stability, Gillmore says, is stabilizing a food source.
“There are so many things that pet owners have to consider, like spay/neuter, boarding, and other types of vet care, but we are seeing that food is the primary concern,” Gilmore said. “There is such an immediate need for it that it jumps to the top of our list.”
In its first major step, First Home, Forever Home recently gave 1,215 bags of dog food and snacks to two Atlanta-area food banks. Del Monte Foods Company’s Kibble n’ Bits provided for the “generous donation.”
Atlanta is just the first city First Home plans to aid — the long-term goal, Gillmore says, is to create networks in all major U.S. cities, placing the responsibility in community member’s hands.
“We are limited for what we can do, since we do have our own animals to feed at the sanctuary,” Gillmore explained. “We can’t count on having a company there to provide food all the time.
“We want to see if we could do a community-based drive, because we know we can’t tackle this issue alone.”
Save Our Pets Food Bank, based in Atlanta, is one of the organizations Best Friends donated to.
The pet food pantry received 250 bags of chow two weeks ago — the timing couldn’t have been better, according to Ann King, executive director of Save Our Pets, since just the week before, the organization’s shelves had been cleared out.
“Getting that food was like a godsend,” King said. “I keep on getting calls from people all around the country, saying that they are in dire need, asking how they can start something like this up, too.”
The food was just as appreciated at Daffy’s Pet Soup Kitchen, located in Lawrenceville, Ga.
“It’s like, I am a little guy from Georgia, and for Best Friends to come in and say, let us help you out, let us send you food, that means a lot,” said Tom Wargo, Daffy’s director. “This is a big pet group appealing to us, saying, ‘We like what you are doing, let’s team up.’ It was really great.”
In November, Zootoo Pet News first wrote about the Daffy’s efforts to service the Lawrenceville and Atlanta area. Aside from collecting and distributing pet food, Wargo, who used to own a construction company, would also pitch in by building dog houses.
Since the fall, Daffy’s has witnessed its regular clientele climb to 400 needy pet owners, according to Wargo. It now has plans to take its efforts nationwide, as well.
Citizens from 28 states, including Pennsylvania, Arizona, Tennessee, California, New York and New Jersey, have expressed interest in starting their own chapters of Daffy’s, Wargo says. He notes that he is more than willing to hand over the nonprofit organization’s name and license, and help in any other way possible.
All they have to do is contact him, and he promises to get the paper work in motion.
“Trying to start up your own nonprofit can cost anywhere from five- to $10,000,” Wargo said. “A lot of people don’t have the money for that. But if they are able to use our license and nonprofit status to do what they have to do, they could be able to have their own events and everything with the Daffy’s banner.”
One hundred and thirty people say they want to start their own Daffy’s, Wargo says. Daffy’s program might work in conjunction with Best Friends’, as both strive to establish a long-term membership program, which would help keep the pantries stocked, and pets fed.
“The whole concept is everyone can have something like a Daffy’s, and people can pitch in with a $35 membership or something like that,” Wargo said. “It doesn’t have to be a huge thing.
“It can be a smaller facility and individuals can just operate it through their own county. It’s not so hard when it isn’t just one person trying to run everything.”
Wargo also plans on helping smaller Daffy branches construct the same bins that he keeps outside of his Lawrenceville facility.
“It’s cheap, they can make them for $5,” he explained.
From there, the bulk of the work — collecting bags of food and other pet merchandise — takes care of itself.
“We need to work together on this problem,” he said. “This is not an every-man-for-himself kind of situation.”
King says that the extra-help is likely to be appreciated across the board.
“I don’t care what they say about things starting to get better,” she said. “People are still out there struggling. And more and more, I perceive a real need for this.”
Amy Lieberman is a staff reporter for Zootoo Pet News. She can be reached at alieberman[at]zootoo[dot]com.
reprinted from ZooToo News website