STOW, Ohio — Rick Sands has always had a heart for feeding the hungry.
It’s something that has been with him since his childhood days, when he visited his grandmother in Ironton, Ohio, which sits on the Ohio River.
“There would be a knock at the back door at all times of the day. My grandmother would go to the door, say ‘I’ll be right back’ and return with a plate of food,” Rick Sands said. “It wasn’t unusual to have strangers sitting at the dinner table. I was always told to clear my plate because somebody in another country didn’t have food. That really impacted me.”
Sands and his wife, Debbi — owners of the Great Harvest Bread Co. in Stow, Ohio, — are now on a mission to help feed the hungry in Ouanaminthe, Haiti. Their project, Bread 4 Haiti, began more than a year ago with the goal of building a bakery in the northeast Haiti community, located near the Dominican Republic border.
The bakery is to be built on the property of Institution Univers, a Christian school that provides academic programs for 2,100 students ranging from pre-kindergarten through grade 13 (there are 13 grades in the French system) and a medical clinic. In addition to providing whole grain bread for a breakfast program at the school, plans for the bakery include use for training vocational education students at Institution Univers and offering nutrition education.
Sands said that God gave him the vision to build a bakery in a Third World country while he was raking leaves in October 2010.
“I have always wanted to do something to feed the hungry and God said it’s time,” said Sands, 55. “I wasn’t sure at that time exactly what (God) had in mind, but I knew he wanted me to do something.”
The plan began to unfold after Debbi Sands had a meeting at their home church, Christ Community Chapel’s Hudson, Ohio, campus. In the meeting, she learned about the vocational school being opened at Institution Univers and discovered that their bakery plan might be a good fit.
“This is an opportunity for us to extend God’s love in Haiti. Rick and I both have a real heart for helping people and bringing God’s healing to those in need,” said Debbi Sands, who is also a Christian counselor. “We are vessels of God. It’s God doing the actual healing and we always want the glory to go to him.”
The Sandses, who have been married for 32 years, met with the director and founder of the school, Hugues Bastien, when he visited the area this year. In June, the Sands went to Haiti and spent five days touring Ouanaminthe, getting acquainted with the people and meeting with missionaries.
A board displaying photos from their trip sits near the door of their Stow bakery at 4058 Fishcreek Road in the Oregon Trails Plaza. The board includes pictures of a local market, Institution Univers and the site of the bakery.
“We knew right away that this is where God wanted us,” Rick Sands said. “We got to see firsthand what the needs of the people are and what challenges we would face.”
The couple is now trying to raise the $150,000 needed to make the state-of-the-art bakery in Haiti a reality and to stock it with a year’s supply of premium ingredients. To date, they have raised $60,000 toward the goal and received some helpful nonmonetary donations, including a hammer mill from Great Harvest Bread Co. and an air conditioning unit from Brandon Heating and Air Conditioning in Stow.
Rick Sands said that he expects the Haitian bakery to be self-sufficient after a year of operation. To help reduce the cost of running the bakery, Sands is working on sourcing some of the ingredients in Haiti to help support the local economy.
The bakery will produce bread that is more nutritious than the bread that is currently available in Ouanaminthe. It will also produce marketable products in the rural Haitian community, which has a population of about 120,000; a 90 percent unemployment rate and limited infrastructure, clean water and electricity.
The Sandses said that the ultimate goal of the project is to glorify God.
“We see it as spreading the Gospel, one loaf at a time,” Rick Sands said. “We want people to ask the question: Who sent them? The answer will point to God. This is an opportunity to spread the Gospel in a place where people need help.”