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While most of the Tri-Valley hunkered down in their homes last March, Sia Desale founded Olivesoap, a nonprofit organization designed to help animals in need during the pandemic.

What originally began as a way to replace her weekly pre-COVID-19 animal shelter visits has grown into a thriving business. The 16-year-old Dublin High School junior uses proceeds from the sale of her organic soaps to help support local animal shelters.

“Visiting animal shelters to help pets has been the weekly highlight of many people’s lives for years, but COVID-19 eliminated that experience,” Sia said.

Sia was first inspired to help local animals after a visit to her grandparents’ home in India, where she saw countless stray animals. While there, she set up shelters, put out food and bathed many of the homeless animals. When she returned, Sia began looking for ways to help animals in the Tri-Valley.

“I started volunteering, and it just went from there,” she said. “I’ve been visiting at the East Bay SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) since 2018, when I was in eighth grade.”

Sia’s soapmaking was a natural extension of her longtime interest in skin care and the creation of ecofriendly, natural products. The name refers to the soap’s primary ingredient, olive oil; the olive branch is a symbol of peace and prosperity.

As her success grew, Sia brought on other chapter presidents to manage the making and selling of soap in their areas. She contacted a friend in Houston who began donating her proceeds to the Houston Humane Society. She also brought on Pragati Mettu, a sophomore at Dougherty High School in San Ramon, to help with the business

“As a chapter president, I sell soap and donate the profits to local shelters,” Pragati said. “I think that people should know about the organic nature of our products. We don't use harmful ingredients such as parabens. Rather, we create our soaps using olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, essential oils and natural colorant to make soap, and using a cold process method on the soap.”

Each bar of Olivesoap is cured for four to six weeks, then wrapped in sustainable packaging. Sia said her soaps do not contain harmful substances like palm oil or parabens, and there is absolutely no animal testing involved.

Through her network, Sia has sold more than 330 bars of soap and raised more than $1,500 in donations. Her goal is to build stronger communities and end cruelty and neglect by continuing to donate proceeds to support to animal protection organizations like the East Bay SPCA and the Houston Humane Society. Her donations help care for animals through food and supply purchases, and fundraising events. She hopes to continue to grow Olivesoap and expand her influence.

In 2020, Sia won $5,500 in the Greater Good Charities: Girls’ Voices for Change Competition. Through this grant, she purchased more than 28,000 meals for the animals at the East Bay SPCA, which recognized Sia’s effort to raise awareness about animal cruelty and nominated her for the 2020 Dublin Young Citizen Award.

Allison Lindquist, president and CEO of East Bay SPCA, said Sia’s contributions continue to help needy cats and dogs in the local community with personal attention, shelter, medical care and behavioral training they need to thrive and find new homes.

“I am especially grateful for (Sia’s) thoughtful generosity during these unprecedented times, as individuals, families and businesses contend with the profound challenges created by the current COVID-19 global pandemic and shelter-in-place health and safety guidelines,” Lindquist said. “(Sia’s) support at this critical time is both needed and appreciated like never before.”

For more information on Olivesoap, or to donate, email siadesale@gmail.com or visit www.olivesoap.org.