For some, second chances come in the form of a dog treat.
Dogs Dig ‘Em biscuits are tiny and bone shaped, with flavors like Turkey Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter and Honey.
What’s special about these dog biscuits — other than the fact that they’re delicious to humans, too — is that they’re made from scratch by women who are starting from scratch.
Every Friday, women who are in recovery for drug and alcohol addictions gather in the pastry kitchen at Institute of Technology in Clovis to make the all-natural treats.
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Between mixing, rolling and using tiny cookie cutters to form the bone-shaped biscuits, which are then placed into ovens, the women bond over their past struggles and optimism for their futures.
“I’m 18 months clean now and this is my very first job in a long time. I used for 5 ½ years,” said Katy McCoy, who started volunteering for St. Francis Homeless Project, the nonprofit behind the product, and is now a paid employee. “It gives us people skills and it’s nice to help us give back to the community.”
Candidates for St. Francis Homeless Project are provided by WestCare, which runs a sober living house in Fresno. The kitchen is provided by IOT in Clovis, where the women who complete the six-month program earn two credentials and a food handling certificate.
Sandra Kaye, a local interior decorator, is the woman behind the project.
“My husband and I saw people freezing to death in New York City, and the only thing keep them warm were their dogs,” Kaye explained about the project’s genesis in 2010. “I looked on the internet for nonprofits that help homeless dogs and came across just one.”
Kaye quickly found herself on a plane bound for Lawrence, Kansas, where she met with the founders of Good Dog! Biscuits & Treats, a fundraiser and employment program at Lawrence Community Shelter.
Inspired, she founded St. Francis Project to help women fill gaps in employment and provide job training and life skills.
“There’s isn’t another program like this,” Kaye said.
She envisions Dogs Dig ‘Em to be “the treat that gives back” to the community. The canine snacks are sold by various retailers in Fresno and Clovis. The packaging is made from recycled paper and each bag holds biscuits from one of seven recipes. The Turkey Sweet Potato treats are gluten-free.
The group sold out of their inventory of Dogs Dig ‘Em treats during the week of the Fresno Food Expo last month.
“We broke our record and sold 3,700, which is 78 bags,” Kaye said. “It shocked me. People were buying them who don’t even have dogs, just to help the program.”
Sales fund the program, which Kaye hopes will be self-sustaining by the end of 2017. Eventually, she hopes St. Francis Homeless Project will become a nationwide nonprofit, through which women all over the country will bake batches of biscuits to start fresh as sober contributors to society.
For now, she’s making a huge difference in the lives of local women.
“I have felonies so it’s hard for me to get a job,” said McCoy, who recently reunited with her three children. “I used to work for Starbucks, so Sandra talked to Dutch Bros. and Kuppa Joy for me so that hopefully I can get a job with them.”
Jessica Streeter struggled with addiction for 10 ½ years and asked a judge for a rehab program.
“I’ve been four months clean with WestCare,” she said. “I started with this program and it feels like a second chance. It gives me hope.”
Streeter hopes to graduate from the program and then find a full-time job. With Kaye’s help, she believes it’s possible.
“She opens a lot of doors for us,” Streeter said. “There’s a lot of opportunity here.”
Crystal Madris, who has been clean for seven months, is excited to begin her education at IOT.
“At the age of 37 I’ll finally get my high school diploma, all thanks to Sandra,” she said. “I want to do medical assisting.”
After being clean for 8 months, Jamie Allen left WestCare on Friday and has been using St. Francis Homeless Project to fill her gap in employment. She’s excited to embark on a path to higher education.
“I have registered for Fresno City College to become an alcohol and drug counselor,” Allen said.
Sonya McCraney, 40, is happy to find herself back in IOT’s kitchen after graduating from its culinary program in 2010 but then falling back into addiction.
“I’ve been clean for 62 days,” she said “I love being able to work back in the kitchen. It’s awesome to me. I had lost my passion. Once I started clean and sober again, it all came back. It’s just a blessing to be volunteering here back in the kitchen.”
McCraney came to St. Francis Homeless Project by choice, not because she is on probation or parole.
“I really appreciate that Sandra offered us the opportunity to come help, because who would trust a drug addict, you know?” McCraney asked. “It’s a blessing.”
How to help
Dogs Dig ‘Em treats are sold in more than a dozen retail locations in Fresno and Clovis, including:
▪ The Vintage Market at 601
▪ Medical-Dental Pharmacy
▪ Patio Cafe
▪ Fig Garden Packaging Store
▪ Jack’s Car Wash
▪ Harris Ranch
▪ Valley Pistachio
▪ The Meat Market
▪ Top Drawer Fig Garden
▪ Design Flower Center
▪ Top Dog Pet Wash
To order, donate, inquire about distribution or volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call (559) 225-1548 or message St. Francis Homeless Project Inc. on Facebook. Suggested donation per bag is $12.