Fourteen years ago, food banks told Tom Wargo his idea to stock pet food for the needy was unnecessary.
“I said, 'I'll build shelves, I'll build a storage unit, I'll build something at your location and then I'll stock it with pet food, so that if people come in, you can give them pet food,'" the Lilburn resident said.
They wouldn’t budge, so Wargo decided in 1997 to start his own nonprofit, the SOS Club, to meet the need. He bought pet food with his own money and gave it to people straight from his truck. Wargo says the dogs and cats he helped feed were often the only good thing in their owners’ lives.
“The people that I was helping were going to the local co-ops and local food banks to get people food, and they would bring the people food home and feed their animals with it,” he said. “They're not going to let their animals starve, they're not going to kill them at the pound, so they're going to feed them, just like if you have kids.”
The effort expanded in 2008 when Wargo started Daffy’s Pet Soup Kitchen in Lawrenceville to give SOS a a physical location. It’s become one of the largest pet food banks in the nation, providing 600,000 pounds of food last year for dogs, cats and other pets in more than 60 counties in Georgia. Provisions include prescription food for pets with diseases such as diabetes or cancer.
A number of other Daffy’s locations and similar organizations have since popped up across the nation, although the Lawrenceville headquarters -- which will soon move to Lilburn -- remains the largest.
Wargo also cares about preventing unwanted pets. Daffy’s requires pets to be spayed or neutered in order for their people to get pet food, and helps by directing people to centers that offer the services at a discount.
“If you can’t afford one [dog], you definitely can’t afford one plus 10 puppies,” he said.
Adding to his todo list, Wargo also rescues pets during natural disasters.
“When the tornadoes hit in northwest Georgia, I’m up there trapping cats, two and a half hours away, staying in a dumpy hotel because most of them got wiped out by the tornado,” he said. He brought in about 15,000 pounds of food for the April crisis.
Wargo says he wants to keep Daffy’s growing and keep spreading the word about spaying and neutering so that fewer animals wind up being abandoned and ultimately put down.
“If you come to us for help,” he said, “your dog gets to stay at home and stay happy, he’s sleeping in his bed with you, and he’s fed. He’s great.”
For more information, check out Daffy's website.
(Editor's Note: This article is featured on Huffington Post as part of its Greatest Person of the Day series.)