76-Year-Old Man Raises More Than $28,000 to Feed Stray, Feral Cats © GoFundMe
Willie Ortiz just wants to help homeless cats - now thanks to a whopping $28,000 raised online, he'll be doing that for a very long time.
"I was praying for some help, and the help came, and I was so glad that it came," Ortiz tells PEOPLE of the GoFundMe page, which was created 14 months ago with a $5,000 goal.
The 76-year-old retired welder has been feeding Hartford and East Hartford, Connecticut's stray and feral cats for more than 20 years, he says, clocking 22 miles on his truck each day, buying supplies with his own money to bring to 16 stops along the way, and selling scrap metal to pay for it.
Thanks to exposure in a story by Connecticut's Hartford Courant, people were inspired to donate to help fund Ortiz's work - but when the story was shared on Reddit, the Courant reports, it really took things to the next level. The fundraising goal was quickly surpassed with donations from as far away as India and Portugal.
"I thought it was a mistake at first; I had never seen anything in my life like that," Kathleen Schlentz, a friend who set up the online fundraiser, told the Courant. "When I called Willie to tell him, he was practically in tears."
With donations hovering at the $28,465 mark on Tuesday afternoon, Ortiz says he plans to use the funds to buy food, pay for spay and neuter surgeries at his preferred vet - Dr. Heinz of Newington - and pay for medication for sick cats that he comes across.
He'd also like to replace his 1988 Chevy Silverado, which has over 200,000 miles, with a newer truck, so he can continue to haul around scrap metal. ("I'm looking for something cheap," Ortiz says.)
Despite all the attention, Ortiz is still focused on the animals. On Tuesday he was working on getting a cat fixed, planned to feed some cats during the day, will go home to eat supper and then head out again at night to feed more hungry cats - the evening feeds, he says, take about three hours.
"The cats come out when they hear the sound of my engine," Ortiz says. "They know my voice and they know the sound of my engine."
To donate to Ortiz's efforts, visit his GoFundMe page.