When Gerri Vaughn made a trip to the Fox Valley Animal League shelter in Aurora two years ago, she walked out with more than her adopted dog - a Boxer mix she eventually named "Bruno."
"I saw how many animals were in the shelter, and I had been hearing in the news about so many voluntary surrenders of pets because people couldn't afford to keep them," said Vaughn, a resident of Bartlett and a paralegal in the office of Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti.
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"I was hearing stories about people using food stamps to buy tuna and hot dogs for their animals, and that's not getting the proper nutrition, and it's not good for the family," Vaughn said.
Vaughn began to think about creating a service similar to a community food pantry - but for pets - that would benefit disabled, low-income or elderly pet owners who were struggling to fit pet food in their budgets.
"And when you think about elderly situations, these people need a pet with unconditional love by their side," Vaughn said. "That's very sad when those people have to give up their pets."
With her daughter, Devin, providing help, Vaughn incorporated Bruno's Pro Bone O Pet Pantry last January and began collecting donations and using her own funds to purchase pet food to distribute to those in need.
The pantry's first fundraising event was held Sept. 19 at Hawthorne's Backyard in West Chicago.
"The fundraiser was great, for a first-time try," said Vaughn, who is working solo since her daughter returned to college. "It helps expand our network and get enough to sustain the pantry through the holidays."
Vaughn said it has been a struggle to get the word out about the service, which people can utilize to donate or seek food by calling (630) 926-3610 or through the brunospantry.com website.
The Hanover Park Township food pantry was a great help in getting the pet pantry operation organized, Vaughn said, but she credits the Petco store on Army Trail Road in Bloomingdale as the key to keeping Bruno's pantry afloat.
"The store management there set up a program in which people can donate a can of pet food to the pantry, and people will do that," Vaughn said. "The first time I picked up donations, it was 500 pounds of pet food and it was just amazing."
If the food donations and distribution can grow, Vaughn hopes to eventually establish veterinary services on a sliding scale as well, provided she can locate a veterinary office willing to work with her.
"Feeding the animals is one thing, but being able to afford veterinary care is another," Vaughn said. "We need to help people with those bills."
The only downside so far, Vaughn said, has been that there is more demand for help than donations. She has helped about 26 families, some with multiple pets.
"I'm trying to serve whoever I can at this point," Vaughn said.