San Diego Animal Center will offer free pet food

A California animal center is doing its part to ensure that all pet owners will be able to care for their pets amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Helen Woodward Animal Center has announced that starting next week it will be holding “drive-through” pet food giveaways, which will be free to San Diego citizens who have lost their jobs or been forced to go without a paycheque, following the spread of COVID-19.

In addition to distributing a two-week supply of dog or cat food per household/pet, cat litter company Naturally Fresh will also be giving away a free 6-pound bag of cat litter per cat to the first 200 people.

The first week of the new program will take place next Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, appointments will be 10 minutes apart and attendees are asked not to leave their vehicle while collecting their food.

All qualified individuals will need to complete an appointment request form on the shelter’s website in order to participate in the program.

Pending the food supply, additional distributions will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

Helen Woodward Animal Center

“Pets are part of our families too and we want to help keep them fed during this stressful time. Keeping families together, healthy and happy is one way to help others,” said Christen Hanley, director of outreach services at the Helen Woodward Animal Center, in a press release.

“We see so many in our community affected and we hope this brings some peace to families with pets in this time of need,” Hanley added.

Last year, the Center’s AniMeals program provided nearly 500,000 meals to pets of San Diego County citizens who were unable to leave their homes or purchase pet food.

As Americans spend more time at home and away from others trying to curb the pandemic, now is also a great time to adopt a pet.

“If you don’t have a pet and are thinking about getting one, now is a great time to ‘try it out’ by adopting your local shelter. Animal shelters and adoption centers nationwide need people to temporarily foster pets,” Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, told PEOPLE.

Choosing to foster an animal during this time will also greatly help local shelters, which are likely to suffer from a backlog of adoptions, as well as increased intakes.

The Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the American Veterinary Medical Association have all said pets are not at risk of spreading COVID-19, and science has repeatedly shown that pets help people feel happier and healthier.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic changes rapidly, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our Coronavirus Center.

Benjamin M. Yerger