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A very special place is quietly operating in Portland, Oregon. Inside a clean, orderly, 4,000-square-foot warehouse, bags of high-quality pet food wait to be distributed to tens of thousands of pet owners who are struggling. This place of hope and help is the backbone of The Pongo Fund, a pet food bank and outreach program that provides direct assistance for more pets than any other animal welfare group in Oregon.
It all got started in the back of founder Larry Chusid’s SUV. Noticing the number of both people and pets living on the streets in Portland, Chusid, an entrepreneur, began packing his Trailblazer with pet food, along with snacks, coffee, and personal care items for Portland’s homeless community and their pets. On his busiest mornings, Chusid said that he could feed 100 people and pets combined and that the back of his SUV “looked like a mini-buffet.”
After a chance encounter with a social worker who told him that by feeding the pets, he was feeding the soul of the family, Chusid knew he wanted to help more local pet owners in need, so he started The Pongo Fund.
Since its launch in November 2009, The Pongo Fund has provided almost nine million meals for pets belonging to 40,000 of Portland’s most fragile community members: anyone and everyone with an honest need. The goal is to keep pets with their families and out of the shelters. “In other words, The Pongo Fund has become the rescue before the rescue,” Chusid said.
The Pongo Fund’s namesake was a Jack Russell Terrier/Border Collie/Australian Cattle Dog mix. Organization founder Larry Chusid found Pongo wandering around a parking lot in 1991. The young dog had no tags or a microchip and was alone and fending for himself. Chusid took him in, and Pongo got a second chance, living to the ripe old age of 19. “I’m pretty sure his IQ was well beyond mine!” Chusid said. “He lived his years with zest and enjoyed making each and every meal a culinary adventure.”
In addition to welcoming guests (what The Pongo Fund calls its patrons) at the warehouse, The Pongo Fund delivers pet food to people who cannot make it to the food bank or one of the distribution sites through its Emergency Kibble Response Team.
“The challenge may be more than just the ability to drive the car or take the bus to get our food,” Chusid explained. “Sometimes the challenge is far greater: emotional upheaval, mental illness, fresh wounds and bruises from the victim of domestic violence who cannot bear to be seen in public. We have a team of trained responders ready to get kibble where it’s needed, when it’s needed.”
The Pongo Fund, with its one paid employee and hundreds of volunteers, also contributes pet food to a distribution network that services more than 100 other nonprofit organizations and human food banks throughout Oregon and the southwest Washington area. Although the food bank is The Pongo Fund’s full-time focus, it also helps facilitate emergency veterinary intervention and spay/neuter.
Cultivating relationships based on dignity, support, and respect, and providing quality food and care for people’s beloved pets are The Pongo Fund’s priorities.
“We know that by helping one, we are helping both,” Chusid said. “Upon arrival, we see people begin to stand taller and breathe easier because they know they will receive the food, kindness, and hope that both they and their pets hunger for.”
Thanks to a lot of hard work and dedication, pets of the homeless, veterans, seniors, single parents, the disabled, and anyone else who has fallen on hard times can turn to The Pongo Fund for help.
“The Pongo Fund gives a chance to animals that might not otherwise have a chance and gives hope to people who have little else to be hopeful for,” Chusid said. “Because sometimes a simple bowl of kibble can be the force that both keeps a family together and saves the lives of the animals they love.”
For more information about the Pongo Fund, visit its Facebook page.
Wherever you find The Pongo Fund founder Larry Chusid, his own dog, Scooby, won’t be far behind. In 2011, the then-17-year-old Beagle mix ended up at a shelter when the homeless couple he belonged to could no longer care for him. He was in poor health and set to be euthanized because of his age and numerous medical issues when Chusid stepped in and saved the senior dog, who is now the unofficial mascot of The Pongo Fund. Scooby just celebrated his 21st birthday in August and is an inspiration to all who meet him.
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About the author: Crystal Gibson is a Canadian expat in France who teaches English by day and does freelance work by night (and on weekends). She’s written for Dogster.com and Catster.com since 2013 and has been published in Chicken Soup For the Soul. When she’s not traveling, teaching, or writing, Crystal is taking care of her Doxie mix, Pinch, and needy Sphynx cat, Skinny Mini. She can be found on Twitter @PinchMom.