Dog Treats Helping Homeless Community

ReStart, a nonprofit organization in Kansas City is making a difference by offering shelter for the homeless community. Beyond providing a place to lay their head, the organization also gives work opportunities to those involved by creating hand-crafted dog treats made of whole wheat flour, natural peanut butter, pureed pumpkin, egg product, and grains. 

“They kind of taste like a graham cracker a little bit, but without the sweetness. They seem nasty, but they’re really not. It’s all edible ingredients,” says Charly, a reStart resident, who participates in a job training program for at-risk youth known as reTreats.

The program started in 2020 and currently has three employees. Funding is provided by Jackson County COMBAT and the Health Forward Foundation. Participants receive a stipend to work 9 a.m. to noon three days per week. The dog treats come in two sizes for large dogs ($8) and small dogs ($4). They are sold at Crane’s Raytown Brewery, Waldo Pizza, Fareway Meat Market and Game Café, as well as the City Market and Brookside Farmers Market. To further the mission of helping those in need, for every five bags sold, one bag is donated to the Pet Resource Center of Kansas City.

“Initially, we thought online would be our biggest sales, but in-person sales are most successful because in-person allows us to tell the story,” says Jonathan Roberts, reStart’s Chief Operating Officer. “We didn’t want people to buy dog treats from us just because we told them a sad story. We didn’t want the teens to be stigmatized or tokenized,” Roberts says. “It needed to be a legit business.”

Charly, is just one of many in the nation who have dealt with homelessness. She fled a verbally abusive home, and ended up living in her car and on the street with her boyfriend and their unborn child. After giving birth, she and her boyfriend feared losing custody of the child because of the living conditions. She now lives at reStart with her child. “She’s one of my best workers,” says Older Youth Case Manager Joe Brecht.

“Honestly, the best part about the job is Joe being our manager because he is very supportive,” Charly says. “It feels like you’re just hanging out making dog treats with your friends. It doesn’t really feel like a job. It feels super-easy, but it pays really well, and you’re always looking forward to coming to work. I’ve never had that (feeling) with a job before.”

Another employee, Lucas, has his own experience finding this job. He originally enlisted in the military, but after breaking his hip, he was sent back home. “I was out on the street for a couple of days, and I had a friend reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, check out reStart.’ Joe offered me a job here and I’ve been working here for a couple of weeks.”

“In a place like this, you experience a lot of negativity. You’re homeless and people have this mindset that they can’t go anywhere because they’re stuck here,” he says. “I don’t have that mindset. This is a temporary residence. I’m going to stay here 18 months, save my money and get out and have a house or an apartment, and I’m going to have a car, and I want to be successful.” 

The program has been a huge success, as 80% of members find permanent housing and 100% have found new employment. 

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