Story by Rebecca West Photos by Amber Allen
A constant convoy of food banks, rescue groups, and people in need — not to mention burning through as many as 8,000 1-gallon baggies for packaging pet food each month — is pretty much the norm for Cody’s Friends these days. According to director Amber Allen, with everything going on right now, the demand on the nonprofit, its volunteers, and resources are stretched to the max. But that hasn’t stopped them from doing the near impossible.
“We’re working almost around the clock now and the need will increase hugely, as it always does around the Holidays,” Amber explained to The Tucson Dog. “Every food bank that depends on us for food has needed more pet food. For example, Marana alone came last week and got 3,000 pet food meals. Plus, we have the 95 animal rescue groups we work with. Five months ago, Pima County came to us asking if Cody’s Friends could be the official “go-to” for everyone in Pima County who is in need. Of course, we said, ‘yes!’”
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the organization, Cody’s Friends came about in 2010 when a 10-year-old Tucson boy felt compelled to make a difference to those in need. That 5th grader was Cody Allen, Amber’s son and the organization’s namesake, who points to a moment in school when he did a report on John F. Kennedy as the catalyst to what would become a safety net for thousands.
Cody explained, “I read his quote, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,’ and started thinking about ways that I could help my country. So, I asked my mom if I could start this charity. I made flyers, passed them out in our neighborhood, and for the next 4 years, we drove around in my mom’s minivan picking up donations off of people’s front porches. Then, we would hand-deliver them to people in need and animal rescue groups.”
Starting from scratch without a building for storage or money to pay for help, they relied on a handful of volunteers and used a garage to house donations until space ran out. It’s been 10 years since the effort began and Cody is now 19. Looking back, few could have imagined the reach and impact the modest grassroots charity would eventually have on the lives of so many.
While they’ve come a long way, and now have a building for the supplies they receive, the challenges they face now are nearly as daunting, if not more so, than when they began.
Currently, they have more than 25 active volunteers in Tucson, but due to COVID, they can unfortunately no longer work side-by-side. Most are older adults worried about exposure to the virus, but they still want to play their part. That’s forced a lot of them into working outside, which in Arizona is no simple feat during the summer months, but they’re determined to keep at it because of the impact the crisis has had on so many vulnerable individuals.
Over the last 5-6 years, they’ve expanded into human services. In that vein, they recently announced that GreaterGood.org made Cody’s Friends one of only 24 Rescue Bank affiliates in the United States. With their aid, an army of volunteers, and 48 donation stations throughout Pima County they’re on track to distribute over one million pounds of pet food and critical supplies to more than 45 local human service agencies such as Meals on Wheels, Community Food Banks, the Tucson Fire Department, and Youth On Their Own. They also provide for animal rescue groups and shelters, such as PACC and the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.
The group relies on everyday citizens for help in gathering supplies, but they also receive assistance from organizations such as Chewy.com and PetSmart for pet food distribution, giving you an idea of their influence and reach over the last decade. In a touching notation on their website, Cody noted that “In the past 10 years, I’ve learned that people in need will go hungry before they let their pet suffer. For some, their pet is the only family they have.”
This is so true, and the feelings extend beyond meals. Many, including homeless military vets, would rather live on the streets with their furry companions than give them up.
If you’ve got supplies, it’s important to know that all dry food must be in the original bag it came in, even if it’s opened. They’ll divvy it up and repackage it from there. That’s where those 8,000 baggies a month come into play. But it isn’t just food that’s needed. Any gently used blankets, towels, toys, bedding, leashes, collars, food bowls, crates, etc., that you can part with, they’ll gladly accept and distribute them as well. You’ll find a list of donation stations on their website under Where to Donate.
Striving to ensure that people never feel needy or alone, Cody’s Friends is always there for people and they’ve never turned anyone down, even spending their own money on pet food when donations haven’t met demands. You can help them meet their goals by reaching out through the sources listed below: