Ava Vasquez organized pet food drive at Vieja Valley Elementary School.

Ava Vasquez organized pet food drive at Vieja Valley Elementary School. (WinkFace Photography)

Since the pandemic started, C.A.R.E.4Paws has distributed 850,000 pounds of pet food to families in need through its mobile veterinary clinic and regular community events. While life is returning to normal for many area residents, thousands of families in Santa Barbara County still struggle to pay rent and bills — to say nothing of feeding their pets.

To help alleviate this reality, C.A.R.E.4Paws volunteer Ava Vasquez, a freshman at San Marcos High School, hosted a pet food drive at her former elementary school, Vieja Valley Elementary School in Santa Barbara’s Hope School District.

“During the pandemic, I have volunteered at C.A.R.E.4Paws’ mobile veterinary clinic, handing out pet food,” Vasquez said. “I see how appreciative the families are for the food, so I thought it would be a really good project to get other students involved to help families that need pet food.”

Over the past month, Vasquez worked directly with Vieja Valley teachers to get all students onboard. She made sure students brought home flyers about the drive, and that all of the school’s 15 classrooms had their own large donation boxes, donated by Home Depot in Lompoc.

The students raised 400 pounds of pet food in one week!

“We could not be more grateful for Ava and the generosity of the students, parents and teachers at Vieja Valley Elementary,” said Wendy Domanski, C.A.R.E.4Paws community programs and volunteer coordinator, who helped Vasquez prepare for the drive.

“We’re also incredibly thankful for our business and nonprofit partners for joining forces to support those in need,” Domanski said. “Not to mention the thousands of individual donors who have contributed food and funds to help fellow community members.”

Because when people live in poverty, so do their pets, C.A.R.E.4Paws has worked over the last 12 years to support low-income, senior, disabled, and unhoused community members by providing access to critical services, such as veterinary care, spays and neuters and pet food.

Since the pandemic started, the nonprofit has tripled the number of pet families it supports annually to more than 20,000.

In 2021, C.A.R.E.4Paws assisted 10,000 dogs and cats with services through its Mobile Community Medicine & Spay/Neuter Outreach program. This year, it has expanded its mobile clinic services to San Luis Obispo County through a project called Snip & Chip SLO, in collaboration with the county’s Animals in Need Fund and Animal Shelter Adoption Partners (ASAP).

“Thank you, C.A.R.E.4Paws, for helping all these animals in our community and for helping me make this food drive happen,” said Vasquez, who hopes other students will follow her lead and host donation drives at their schools.

To learn more about C.A.R.E.4Paws’ pet food distribution services, visit care4paws.org/petassistance. For more about C.A.R.E.4Paws, visit care4paws.org.