By LOIS KINDLE
A boy from Apollo Beach has turned a business of baking and selling fresh, made-from-scratch dog treats into a vehicle for helping children in need.
“I started Richwell Treats when I was in the 5th grade,” said Mitchell Richison, 13, an 8th-grade student at LLT Academy charter school. “Me and my friends (were assigned) a school project to start a business and write a business plan.”
So the students designed a café and did well, said his mom, Angie. “He and his friend Tyler Blackwell came home and asked if they could actually start the café at a local market in the neighborhood, but I said, ‘No,’ after explaining to them all the food regulations that had to be followed to do that.”
So Tyler’s younger brother Brody suggested they make dog biscuits instead, and the boys got a thumbs up.
“I told them they’d have to find a recipe and design a logo, website, Facebook page and business cards, and they did it all, 100%, all on their own. They did an incredible job on everything, including the website, which we no longer have due to the cost.”
Today, Mitchell runs the business himself, with his mom’s help, marketing his dog biscuits on Facebook.
“I make them with peanut butter, oats and bananas,” he said. “I’ve had about 50 customers in the past year, and I also sold them at the Ruskin Drive-in market. When I’m not playing baseball (with the East Bay Little League and East Bay Travel Team), I try to find other places to set up and sell.”
Due to the pandemic, there have been no markets this year.
Mitchell decided to take things a step further by using the Richwell Treats proceeds to get and give shoes to underserved children.
When COVID-19 forced people to stay home in April, the boy cleaned out his closet and spruced up two pairs of gently used shoes, after watching a how-to U-Tube video, to make them look like new.
A meaningful meeting
Mitchell knew about WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil (Thaddeus Bullard) through his mother’s professional association with the wrestler’s Bullard Family Foundation, so he contacted him through Instagram, asked the philanthropist if he knew anyone who might need them, and then rode with his mother to Tampa to turn them over.
“Titus told Mitchell he ‘loved his heart’ and sat down with him to talk with about how he had grown up with hand-me downs and appreciated new things,” Angie said. “He gave Mitchell two boxes of new, Under Armour athletic shoes and challenged him to find a way to continue giving new ones.
Titus told Mitchell how he had grown up the child of very young mother who was raped when she herself was a child.
“I always had heavily worn clothes, and I had big feet, so it was hard to find shoes that fit,” he said. “People in the underserved community feel they are only good enough for less than. When someone offers them new things, those things exemplify dignity.”
Titus said he was glad to have the chance to expand Mitchell’s vision, because “his heart is so great. It’s an honor and privilege to impart words of wisdom based on my own experience. In the world of giving, we need people like Mitchell.”
On the way home from his visit with the star wrestler, Mitchell was very quiet, his mother said.
“When I asked him about it, he said he didn’t know how he could afford to buy new shoes, as Titus suggested,” Angie said. “I reminded him of his dog treat business, and he immediately perked up.”
Since then, the boy has purchased 25 additional pairs of new shoes to match the ones he got from O’Neill. He’s now hoping to give them away to kids at Ruskin Elementary School, when it’s safe to do so.
Angie made sure her son is aware of how many moms and dads are struggling right now to put food on the table, and they may not have the money to pay for extras like back-to-school items and new shoes. She herself was recently furloughed and Mitchell’s dad, Bryan, was laid off.
“I feel good about giving back to people in a time like COVID, when they are losing their jobs, their lives have changed and they are struggling,” Mitchell said. “It makes me happy that I can help.”
Although the need is great at Ruskin Elementary School for Mitchell’s donation, the logistics of his doing so right now are tough.
“We’re very limited on who can come on campus, and our administration is currently bogged down with (matters related to the pandemic), said kindergarten teacher Denise Batronie, who’s trying to facilitate an event with school leaders. “We’d like for the children to be able to choose the shoes they like, and we want the event to be meaningful for Mitchell. He’s worked so hard; we want him to see the students’ reactions.
Richwell Treats are available online at https://www.facebook.com/richwelltreats. The cost for the made-to-order biscuits is $10 per dozen for three-inch treats and $10 for 30 one-inch treats.
Simply leave your name, address and which option you prefer. Free delivery is included in the South Shore area, and mailing is available to areas outside the community for an added cost.
“Mitchell has always had a big heart,” Bryon, his dad, said. “We’ve strived to teach him how he needs to build his own destiny, take responsibility for himself and move forward. I’m proud of what he’s accomplished and hope, with age, it only gets better.”