Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

New nonprofit turns coffee into employment


Crystal King prepares to grind a bag of coffee at Red River Roasters. She’s hopeful the nonprofit will help provide jobs to formerly incarcerated people like her.
By Meagan Ewton

In a small basement office in Oklahoma City, a new non-profit is hoping coffee can address a societal problem: employment after incarceration.

Red River Roasters is dreaming big and starting small: three flavors, three blends, one grinder and one heat sealer. The endeavor was founded by Redemption Church, a ministry of Oklahoma’s Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries that meets at OKC-Penn Ave.

Crystal King, the first, and so far only, employee, grinds and seals each pound of coffee by hand. She likened the work to starting a small business one relationship at a time.

“I am not a salesman, but when it comes to the mission of helping people come out of prison, I can be excited about that,” King said. “I am one of those people.”

King, who was previously incarcerated for 42 months, is a graduate of Exodus House, a temporary residential program through CJAMM that helps people newly released from prison re-enter society. She believes Red River Roasters has the potential to change lives.

“It’s truly scary to be a success (after incarceration). The statistics are stacked against you,” King said. “What people need are jobs. That can be the difference between succeeding and going back to prison.”

This sentiment was the motivating factor behind starting the business, according to Rev. Brad Rogers, pastor of OKC-Penn Ave. and Redemption Church. He said a conversation with the coffee supplier for Redemption Church led to the choice to create Red River Roasters.

The nonprofit has received some support as they get started, such as a donated coffee grinder, donated tables, and a CPA who donated time to set up the 501(c)3 designation.

The church also received a New People New Places grant that in part supports the work of reducing recidivism through employment.

Rogers said that while they hope to grow enough to roast their own beans and provide full coffee service to their customers, the coffee is just the means used to provide hope to the incarcerated community.

“While we’ve become passionate about coffee and still have a lot to learn, coffee comes second to the mission of changing lives and providing opportunities for the incarcerated community,” Rogers said. “As we gain success in this area, we will have a positive social impact on not only the lives of individuals such as Crystal, but also on the greater community.”

For her part, King is excited about the possibilities. She plans to continue marketing to United Methodist churches in the district as well as other nonprofits.

“Being a part of something like this is a game changer,” King said. “It can change somebody’s life. It changed my life.”

The Red River Roasters store can be found online at redriverroasters.org.


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