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Helen Woodward
The Helen Woodward Animal Center volunteers help run a “drive-through” pet distribution, giving out pet food and litter at no cost to San Diegans who have been impacted by COVID-19-related job loss. Photo courtesy of Helen Woodward Animal Shelter
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Helen Woodward gives out free pet food to families impacted by COVID-19

RANCHO SANTA FE – With the spread COVID-19 leading to rampant job loss throughout San Diego county, many families and individuals are taking a hard financial hit.

And for those families with pets, Helen Woodward Animal Shelter is making sure they have one less expense to worry about over the next few weeks. The nonprofit is now running food drives to give out two weeks worth of free pet food per pet (with a maximum at three pets) and cat litter to individuals who have been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the drive’s first day on Monday, March 23, center staff loaded the cars of 57 families with pet food and liter – of course, while maintaining social distancing and keeping both staff and visitors safe.

“It was kind of beautiful, like clockwork, to see so many people working together for the common good,” said Jessica Gercke, the center’s PR & Communications Director.

Helen Woodward Animal Center is giving out pet food for pet owners impacted by COVID-19-related job loss. Photo courtesy of Helen Woodward Animal Shelter

And starting later this week, the center’s drives will not only offer animal food but plenty of human food as well. Feeding San Diego has decided to chip into the relief effort — the organization will provide two weeks-worth of nonperishable food items to individuals who set up an appointment to pick up pet food.

The drives are part of a longstanding Helen Woodward program called AniMeals, which strives to ensure that elderly, disabled and homeless folks have access to pet food for their furry companions. When COVID-19 hit San Diego, the AniMeals staff were looking at how to help those hit hardest by the crisis – and a food drive seemed like the obvious next step.

“We’ve expanded the (AniMeals program) in different directions, so it really seemed like a natural fit when we heard about the number of families losing their jobs,” said Gercke.

As soon as the Center put the word out, “tons of people” started writing in, said Gercke. Many had lost their jobs and were looking for support, but plenty were also looking to help.

Companies Blue Buffalo and Naturally Fresh helped contribute food and cat litter, respectively; Naturally Fresh will be supplying the first 200 people with a 6-pound bag of cat litter per cat. The rest of the food is being funded by generous individual donors.

For San Diegans who are interested in picking up food, the center requests that individuals fill out an online form in advance, after which they will be assigned an “appointment” time within the time frame of the drive. Gercke said this process ensures the center can personalize food packages based on the specific families and the dietary needs of their pets.

The AniMeals Relief pick-up will continue this week, on:

Wednesday, March 25 from 1 – 4 p.m.

Thursday, March 26 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Although AniMeals has not set a drive schedule for the weeks to come, Gercke said the center is planning to keep the drives going as needed. For now, they are hoping to help as many individuals as possible, but are considering giving out food to those who have already utilized the drive as the next few weeks unfold.

“Of course with COVID-19, nobody knows what’s going to happen week to week,” she said. “But I know everyone (at the center) is willing to help as long as it’s needed, for as long as we can.”


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