San Marcos freshman Ava Vasquez helped organize a pet-food drive at her former elementary school, Vieja Valley. | Credit: WinkFace Photography / Courtesy C.A.R.E.4Paws

Food insecurity is an issue that has gained attention as of late, but rarely are there programs to tackle the often overlooked problem of food insecurity for pets, especially with housing costs and inflation eating up the disposable income of families across California.

But for one local teenager, San Marcos High School freshman Ava Vasquez, this issue became something she was very passionate about after volunteering to hand out pet food at C.A.R.E.4Paws’ mobile veterinary clinic during the pandemic. ”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,” she said.

Vasquez took it on herself to organize her own pet-food drive at her former school, Vieja Valley Elementary, with the help of the school’s teachers and students. Each student brought home flyers to their homes, asking for donations, and in one week, the drive had collected more than 400 pounds of pet food.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the nonprofit C.A.R.E.4Paws has distributed more than 850,000 pounds of pet food through its mobile veterinary clinic and community events, according to C.A.R.E.4Paws cofounder and Executive Director Isabelle Gullo. “While life is returning to normal for many community members, thousands of families in Santa Barbara County still struggle to pay rent and bills, let alone feeding their four-legged companions,” Gullo said.

Credit: WinkFace Photography / Courtesy C.A.R.E.4Paws

“We could not be more grateful for Ava and the generosity of the students, parents and teachers at Vieja Valley Elementary,” says Wendy Domanski, C.A.R.E.4Paws’ Community Programs & Volunteer  Coordinator, who helped Vasquez prepare for the drive.

“Over the last 12 years, C.A.R.E.4Paws has worked to help low-income, senior, disabled, and unhoused community members keep their pets by providing access to critical services such as veterinary care, spays and neuters, and pet food,” Gullo said. Over the past two years, she added, the nonprofit has “tripled the number of pet families it supports annually to more than 20,000.”

Vasquez thanked the organization and other volunteers that helped make the event happen and said she hopes that other students will “follow her lead and host donation drives at their schools.”

To learn more about and support C.A.R.E.4Paws’ pet food distribution services, visit

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