John McElhattan’s dog is named Albie, short for Albert. Albie is impossibly, cartoonishly cute. He’s got giant, glossy marbles for eyes and a little jagged tuft of white fur right smack dab in the middle of his forehead.
John has spent a lot more time with Albie recently, ever since he was laid off from his job as a server at the Broken Shaker at 19 East Ohio St. The COVID-19 crisis has been especially unkind to people like John over the past two months. Since the start of this pandemic, restaurants and bars have lost nearly three times more jobs than any other industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And with restauranteurs looking to other avenues outside of traditional dining rooms to stay afloat during this time, servers like John are becoming, for the time being, obsolete.
“I’d be really stressed out if it weren’t for my unemployment (benefits),” John says. “The uncertainty of what the job market is going to look like for the next six months to a year is a little weird, because I don’t know what reopening is going to look like.”
To keep himself busy, John started baking treats. Not for him or his partner, but for Albie.
“I was just bored one day, and I made (Albie) some dog treats,” John says. “I Google’d some recipes, and it seemed simple enough. All you need is some flour, water, eggs and pumpkin puree.”
Albie couldn’t get enough of them, apparently. And on one of John's morning walks, he realized other people (and other dogs) might want homemade treats, too, and he could pledge all proceeds to help support local Chicago restaurants and hospital workers.
“I have nothing but time right now, but I can’t just keep donating money myself,” John explains. “I’m unemployed. I don’t have, like, “charitable donation” funds. But with a small investment of my own money, I can magnify that to make a much larger impact.”
John dubbed his initiative “Project WOOF,” which anyone can find and donate to on Paypal or Venmo. He allows donors to customize the treats, and many have requested the biscuits spell out their dog’s name.
John also decided, after a friend that works in the nursing department at Lurie Children’s Hospital suggested it, that Project WOOF would be donating to Frontline Foods.
“Keeping restaurants alive is near and dear to my heart,” John says. “And I thought about larger organizations, but I liked that Frontline Foods combined helping local restaurants while getting food to hospital workers.”
So far, he’s raised over $1,100 dollars, and John says he hopes to “keep up the momentum.” He wants to hit $5,000 total in donations, enough to feed a large ICU for a week. Until then, John will keep baking biscuits — for Albie, for donors around Chicago, for the restaurant industry and for local hospitals.