Tom Wargo stays busy dishing out free pet food to needy families in Gwinnett and several other Georgia counties, but he'd like to be even more busy. "I'd really like to get more people involved in what we're doing, he said. "I would like to see this really be part of the community."
Daffy's Pet Soup Kitchen moved into its most recent location at 134 S. Clayton Street in Lawrencevile at the beginning of the year. It features a discount pet supply and toy store and a food warehouse. "Right now with the economy being so bad, people are having to give up their animals and turn them in to shelters because they can't afford feeding them or veterinary care," said Lindy Barrett-Grove who helps runs the store. Since opening the new location they've added on a hundred new clients.
Wargo started the mission after seeing a need. Daffy's is named after a dog he became pals with while on his day job in home remodeling. Wargo would help lower income homeowners do repairs and would often see animals roaming around with little or no food. "People told me they were taking their food they needed to survive and sharing it with their pets," Wargo said. "Pets are like family, like you can't feed your kids...that's how they felt." He started regularly bringing food for Daffy and the other animals on his trips. "People started calling me to look at remodeling jobs when they didn't need them," Wargo said. "They really wanted the pet food."
When Wargo finished the job in Daffy's neighborhood, he decided to take his new friend home with him. Daffy was diabetic and required insulin and special food. "When people are having problems feeding a regular dog, a dog like that will be the first one to go," said Wargo. Daffy has since passed away, but the vision he helped inspire is going full steam.
Wargo started the SOS Club in 1997, dishing out free pet food out of his own truck. A decade later, he opened up his first warehouse, added Daffy's Pet Soup Kitchen and has doing his best to keep families and their pets together. Last year, they handed out almost a million pounds of pet food.
Daffy's offers a week's supply of food for two pets. Just like in a human food bank, there are conditions to qualify to receive the help. Among the requirements, you must have your pets spayed or neutered and you must give back to the community. "We ask that people do five hours of volunteer work at a non-profit," Wargo said. In addition to the pet food, Daffy's offers access to discount veterinary services and cat trapping. "We trap them and teach people how to trap the cats and get them fixed," Wargo said. "By those cats not going to animal control, we're saving taxpayer money."
Wargo next wants to make the food bank mobile... as in smaller trailer-size food banks set up in different counties across the state. "I want it to be small and local," said Wargo. "I want people to feel like it's their food bank. That was my goal from the get go." The concept works like this: 20-foot trailers would be stationed in several different communities. Sponsors would pay a fee to have their company posted on a billboard in front of the trailers. "I just don't want be one of those groups out there saying give me money," Wargo said. "I want to say here's what I can offer you for the money. You advertise with us, we can offer you something in return and at the same time you're supporting your community."
Wargo says he's run into to some people who question the need for a pet food bank. "What we do is a lot more than give out dog biscuits. This is an essential need for people," said Wargo. "I need people to start realizing that what we're doing is just as important as the people food banks. If the people food is going to the pets, then the people food bank may as well be a pet food bank. The need is out there."
Wargo says expanding the program will be a benefit to the county. "I want to be able to use our volunteers to help with community projects," said Wargo. Your support can help lower the number of pets surrendered by their owners, thus reducing the number of animals that are being euthanized. According to the ASPCA, 3 to 4 million animals, 60% of dogs and 70% of cats, are euthanized every year because there is no one to adopt them.
If you are not able to be a sponsor, food donations are always welcome. Daffy's has drop-off locations listed all around the county. Daffy's is also teaming up with the Gwinnett Braves for a fundraiser on August 26th when they take on the Syracuse Chiefs. Money from every ticket bought through Daffy's Pet Soup Kitchen for the game will go towards the pet food program. Ticket purchases must be received by August 13th.
"People may think it's a small thing...giving food to animals," Wargo said. The way I look at it, we're saving the county hundreds of thousands of dollars and we're keeping families together with their pets."