Pongo Fund feeds pets, helps families
By PAUL HAIST
article created on: 2010-12-01T00:00:00
For Larry Chusid, Nov. 14 was just another day at the Pongo Fund Pet Food Bank on Northeast Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
A line of people extended out the warehouse entrance, down the street and around the corner. Chusid, clipboard in hand, kept his eye on everything that was happening inside the warehouse—all the while consulting with his eager volunteer staff and greeting the people waiting in line, many of whom he knew by name.
They were there to get some of the highest quality dog and cat food anyone can buy. But they wouldn’t be buying it. Chusid gives away the Canidae, Felidae and Dogswell products to any pet owner in honest need.
That’s what The Pongo Fund is all about, helping people in honest need to feed their pets and, in so doing, helping them to take better care not only of their pets, but also themselves and their families.
While Chusid said Nov. 14 was just another day at the warehouse, it really was a special day. It marked The Pongo Fund’s first year of operation in its present location as well as the delivery of its one-millionth pet meal.
Among the people standing in line for free pet food that day was Molly Doering. She said she’s been coming to the Pongo Fund’s twice-monthly pet food distributions since last February. On Nov. 14 she took home the fund’s one-millionth meal. One of her five cats—Dick, Bob, JR, Alan and Midnight—or her two dogs—Sam and Rocky—would enjoy that millionth meal.
Pongo will remind many of the classic Disney animated film “101 Dalmatians,” the protagonist of which was a Dalmatian named Pongo whose partner, Perdita, gave birth to 15 Dalmatian puppies and an ensuing adventure.
Chusid launched what would become The Pongo Fund, itself something of an adventure, in 2007 and named it for his late and beloved dog.
It all began when Chusid spotted two dogs, Jackson and Jewels, camped out with their people beneath the Morrison Bridge. It was almost Thanksgiving.
“I stopped to ask how they were and if they had Thanksgiving plans. They said they did; they’d be celebrating the holiday at a shelter just up the street. And they said they were fine and needed nothing. Not for themselves, at least. But some dog food would sure be great. Really good food; could I get them some of that?” Chusid writes at the thepongofund.com.
The homeless pair explained that the shelters they use rarely have pet food, so humans and pets end up sharing the same food.
“It wasn’t healthy for any of them, but that’s just how it was. I said I could help, and the next day I returned with some Canidae dog food, treats, dog coats and beds.”
From that point on, Chusid operated out of the back of his car and and his own wallet until he could form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and acquire a space to work from.
He took care of the nonprofit status and won support from the Portland Development Commission, which donates the warehouse space at 910 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
The Pongo Fund has no paid staff. Every dollar donated to the fund goes directly to provide pet food to those who need it, says Chusid.
The project really took off when it received two remarkable gifts from high-end pet food makers in California.
“I happened to run into the owner of Canidae,” said Chusid. “I told him what we do and that I was using Canidae. He offered to do more. I asked him to donate $125,000 worth of pet food, the largest contribution in the history of high-end pet food. Without blinking, he said, ‘Yes.’”
Then he approached the maker of Dogswell, another high-end, highly nutritious pet without fillers.
“They agreed to match the donation,” said Chusid. “The Portland Police Department closed down two lanes of MLK for the delivery of this food.”
Thinking it wasn’t fair to the two companies to continue to ask them for donations (“I wanted to make sure we were treating our partners fairly,” he said), he asked them to continue to provide food but to let The Pongo Fund pay their cost.
“Much to my surprise, they agreed,” said Chusid.
Without as yet having mounted any fund-raising drives, more than 500 individual donors made gifts to The Pongo Fund in its first year, according to Chusid.
Four charitable foundations also have stepped forward to help. They include the Hedinger Family Foundation of Portland and the Mark and Christi Goodman Charitable Fund of the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation in Portland.
Mark Goodman recently joined The Pongo Fund board of directors. His daughter Taylor, herself a board member of the Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation, has volunteered for the Pet Food Bank.
“I’m probably going to recommend The Pongo Fund as an (OJCYF) allocation,” said the Riverdale High School junior. Each year the youth foundation distributes the funds it raises to organizations visited by its teen board members.
Taylor’s father said, “A lot of people have it tough today and have had to get rid of their pets. The connection between a family and its pet is important. I have confidence in Larry’s vision. He’s totally committed to this project. He’s not happy until every pet is fed.”
Taylor Goodman told Chusid that she was so moved by her experience that she’s going to bring her sister Morgan to the Pet Food Bank.
“She left me very touched,” said Chusid. “No one who comes in to do what we do expects to find what they find. It’s a universe filled with nothing but good.”
Chusid likens The Pongo Fund Pet Food Bank to the Oregon Food Bank, but with an important distinction.
“We operate identical to the Oregon Food Bank, except that we don’t get paid—no overhead, every dollar given to us turns into food,” he said.
The Pet Food Bank also reaches beyond Portland.
“We’ve provided food in 23 counties,” said Chusid, who explained that they have cooperative arrangements to distribute their pet food with more than 50 community organizations.
Most of those are in the greater Portland area, but they include agencies in Clackamas, Marion, Josephine, Polk, Linn and Benton counties, among others, and as far away as Oregon’s south coast.
What started for Chusid as one good deed three Thanksgivings ago, turned out to be an education.
“I didn’t know how great the need was. I assumed others were taking care of this,” said Chusid. “There are more than 900 places here for a family without food to turn for help. But there was no one to help families with pets. It’s almost as if they forgot a family could include creatures with more than two legs.”
Now that’s all different because of Chusid.
“With this one bowl of kibble,” he said, “we are able to keep a family together and feed the one’s they love. It’s truly a force.”
Learn more about The Pongo Fund Pet Food Bank, including how you can help, at thepongofund.com. The Pongo Fund’s mailing address is P.O. Box 8244, Portland OR 97207. There is no mail delivery at the food bank site.