VENTURA COUNTY, California – Since 1982, the Humane Society of Ventura County has operated a Pet Food Bank at its shelter in Ojai. Every year, thousands of pounds of pet food is distributed from the facility to local families in need, to feed their beloved animals. In 2018, the service expanded to include the pets of furloughed federal workers during the partial government shutdown. The success of the Pet Food Bank has now led to Pantry 4 Paws, a countywide pilot program from the HSVC. With distribution facilities being set up across Ventura County, the new program aims to feed the dogs of homeless and underserved communities across the county. It’s a substantial number, with an estimated 20 percent of the local homeless population having pets. Installation of dog food bank dispensers has begun and should be completed by late August in locations from Ojai to Thousand Oaks. “The idea behind this project is to assist those in need in greater numbers, and having remote locations for our Pantry 4 Paws dog food bank helps the HSVC achieve this goal,” said Greg Cooper, director of community outreach for the HSVC. “We are very excited to push our services further into the county,” said HSVC shelter director Jolene Hoffman, adding, “Our long-term goal is to provide most of our services to everyone in need regardless of where they live, and the Pantry 4 Paws is a major step in that direction.” Cooper first proposed the idea in 2017, after he visited a homeless outreach effort provided by the Ventura County Health Care Agency. “They had a variety of services for the homeless, including medical/dental, social services, food, clothes, a shower, etc.,” Cooper said. “They had everything to care for the people but not their pets.” That seed ultimately generated a grant from the GlobalGiving Foundation that fully funds the Pantry 4 Paws pilot study. “The initial grant covers the cost of all the supplies, two tons of dry dog food and the cost of staffing to implement and sustain the program for up to two months,” said Ralph Saccomano, grants associate for the HSVC. After two months – or sooner, depending on the success of the program – the HSVC will need support in purchasing additional food. “Our supporters at the HSVC have been tremendous in providing us with food for the Pet Food Bank, but Pantry 4 Paws is at a much larger scale,” Saccomano said. The Pantry 4 Paws grant covers a two-month pilot study for up to 10 locations. As of Aug. 14, the five locations that have agreed to host Pantry 4 Paws are HELP of Ojai’s Community Assistance Program, Dee Dee’s Dog Spot in Ventura, SPIRIT of Santa Paula, Lutheran Social Services – Ventura County in Thousand Oaks, and Community Action of Ventura County in Oxnard. “I would love to have 20 or more of these dispensers throughout Ventura County,” said Cooper. “We know that there is a much greater population in Ventura County who could benefit from this.” How you can help Any welfare agencies, nonprofits or businesses that offer assistance to the homeless in Ventura County and are interested in hosting a Pantry 4 Paws dispenser at no cost should contact Cooper at GregC@hsvc.org or 805-656-6505. Those who’d like to support the HSVC’s Pantry 4 Paws program can drop off unopened bags of dry dog or cat food at the Ojai shelter, at 402 Bryant St. Also, the HSVC Amazon Wish List has been updated to include examples of requested food. The participating agencies’ response so far has been heartening. “We are so excited to collaborate with the Humane Society of Ventura County on this project, which will certainly help fill a gap that exists in our community,” said Whitney Nunes, a case manager with HELP of Ojai. “So many of our clients ask for pet food when they visit our office, and having the Pantry 4 Paws at the same location as our food pantry means one less obstacle in receiving the help they need.” Commending the HSVC, Tara L. Carruth, MSW, with the nonprofit Ventura County Continuum of Care, acknowledged the need. “Pets are important to homeless folks in the same ways they are important to housed folks,” she said. “They can be a reason to live, hope and do better. They also can be a barrier to receiving services or finding shelter or housing. … We are only beginning to bridge this issue.” The Humane Society of Ventura County is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the health, safety, welfare, compassionate care and protection of all animals through education and community outreach programs. For more information, visit hsvc.org, call 805-646-6505 or follow @hsvc on Facebook or Instagram.