In the wake of the Oakland Zoo’s announcement that it is losing millions of dollars and may have to close permanently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Castro Valley girl is stepping up to make a big difference.

On July 4, 6-year-old Andy Soulard, with a little help from mom, created a Facebook page asking people do donate money in an effort to help the zoo make up for its roughly $2 million monthly revenue loss.

“Andy loves the Oakland Zoo and was heartbroken to hear they may need to shut down permanently,” reads a Facebook post at the top of her page. “She’s starting off the fundraiser by donating the $5 she received from the Tooth Fairy this week.”

Since that initial post, Andy has put up big numbers, raising more than $172,000 as of Monday morning.

The message goes on to say that “100 percent of your donations will go to the Zoo! She is also making bracelets for every donation over $25.”

Support pours in

Currently, with the help of classmates and friends, Andy is working to make 400 bracelets for the tidal wave of donors who have already qualified to receive the beaded baubles.

In addition to the money, messages of love and support have been pouring in.

“You are amazing! My husband and I are both donating,” wrote Nancy Clark. “I wanted to share with you — my family started the Zoo in 1922. When I was your age, I basically lived at the Zoo. Both my sister and I helped our grandparents and parents — we sold tickets and food, played and fed the animals, etc.”

“I am very optimistic that your donations along with all the community support will secure the Zoo’s future for another 100 years,” Clark wrote. “We will get through the pandemic and continue to provide wildlife protection and conservation — we must.”

“Wow!!!! Look at what you’ve done, little one! You are a superstar! Thank you for making this happen. You have made a difference and you are an inspiration to all of us,” wrote Judy Waller.

It’s a level of enthusiasm that supporters hope will help the zoo stay afloat until restrictions on public gatherings are eased.

Zoo staff grateful

“We are utterly grateful for her passion and her generosity and coming to our aid and we’re looking forward to having her over for a special visit very soon to thank her in person,” said zoo spokeswoman Erin Harrison.

Harrison said that it costs the zoo about $1 million to operate every month and currently it has roughly $3.2 million in a reserve account that can help keep the lights on and the animals cared for.

Zoo officials are also asking Alameda County to apply for an exemption though the state so that it might reopen its gates.

If that happens, it could operate at about one-third capacity, which would likely be enough to help the zoo survive until the public health restrictions are lifted, Harrison said.

People who want to donate to Andy’s cause can visit her Facebook page.

Andy’s family didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Local News Matters on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.