The founder of a pet food pantry in Elgin hopes to get funding and donations to buy a van so she can serve veterans and maybe even open a second location.
Gerri Vaughn runs Bruno's Pro-Bone-O Pet Pantry out of Food for Greater Elgin, a food pantry at 1553 Commerce Drive. Bruno's serves about 80 pet owners per month by handing out wet and dry food for cats and dogs, plus a variety of pet items including leashes, diapers, toys, sweaters, grooming products and cat litter.
These days, you also can find bedding for rabbits and gerbils at Bruno's, courtesy of a recent grant from Oxbow Animal Health, Vaughn said.
"Originally we started to help people through the hard times (after the recession)," Vaughn said, "but the hard times just don't go away sometimes. There's a lot of people that come that the only thing they got is that little kitty cat or that little tiny dog that keeps them getting up in the morning."
Vaughn said she wants to start helping veterans, many of whom have pets or service dogs, "so they have one less thing to worry about after serving their country."
She needs a van to distribute pet food to veterans organizations and would like to hire a veteran to help her run the pantry, she said.
To that end, she's applied for several new grants, including from the Veterans Support Foundation, she said.
She'd love to open a second location -- ideally somewhere in or near West Chicago -- and hopes someone will donate space with storage for her pallets of food.
Bruno's pet food comes from Rescue Bank, a program of the international nonprofit GreaterGood.org, which ships donations to a network of warehouses across the country. The Elgin pantry received 20,000 pounds of donations last year, Vaughn said.
Vaughn, who lives in Bartlett and works part time as a paralegal, used to rent a truck once a month to pick up pet food from Rescue Bank's warehouse in Carol Stream. Now she has two volunteers who do that and two more who help her staff the pantry when it's open four times a month. One of them is Carrie Johnson of Elgin, who first walked into Bruno's about three years ago as a client.
"My husband, one of the medicines he took was $491 each month," Johnson said. "It got to the point where the medicine and the dog food ... it was a lot."
Vaughn does great work, Johnson said.
"She helps so many people," she said. "There's a lot of people who have pets and they are handicapped, they are on disability, they lost their jobs. And a lot of their pets, they are like family. They may be all that they have."
Bruno's provides "an invaluable service," said Shelia M. Jackson, executive director of Food for Greater Elgin.
"We are pleased to have them as a community partner. Our clients look forward to this resource and schedule their visits around the pet pantry hours," she said.
Kathy Wiesner, director of Rescue Bank Chicago, agreed. "Pet food banks are definitely needed. ... They keep pets in their homes, especially when a family is struggling," she said. "Some people don't even realize that they exist."