Bread 4 Haiti builds lives up

Yolanda Li

When Rick Sands, owner of the Great Harvest Bread Company in Stow, Ohio, looked forward to putting a bakery in the third-world country in 2010, he did not know where it would be. Three years later in October 2013, the bakery was opened in Ouanaminthe, Haiti. It helps to feed 2,400 students now.

“To help people and feed the hungry, and to understand why there are hungry people in the world, it’s in my DNA,” Sands said. His grandmother used to take plates of food to people who came to the door. Sands’ brothers and sisters would reach out to those people who needed help, and they would have strangers sitting at the dinner table constantly. These things affected Sands when he was only 5 years old.

In June 2011, Sands and his wife, Debbie, met with Hugues Bastien, president of the Institution Univers in Ouanaminthe. IU is a Christian school founded by Bastien about 20 years ago. There are 2,400 students in the school, the annual tuition fee is about $200, but 25 percent of the students cannot afford the tuition fee. Bastien has been raising funds to help the students continue their education. But a lot of the students still won’t be able to go to college after they finish high school — IU includes programs from pre-kindergarten to grade 13 — so Bastien thought about building some vocational programs for the students.

IU has industrial sewing and auto-mechanical schools. When Sands talked to Bastien, they thought it might be a good fit to put a bakery in, where they could teach students baking, nutrition, facility management and retail.

Sands recalled his first trip with his wife to Ouanaminthe and said, “At the moment when we got there, I knew this is where God wanted us to be.” Ouanaminthe is in northeast Haiti; it shares a border with the Dominican Republic. It is a community with 120,000 people and 90 percent unemployment. Some people do their laundry in the river and put their clothes and sheets on the ground to dry. Many people do not have electricity in their homes, so children need to finish their homework before leaving school or sit on the roof of the house to do homework before sunset. People eat rice and beans every day, and they usually have two meals per day.

“What they eat really is more about filling their bellies than it is about nutrition,” Sands said. Before IU started the lunch program, some students were falling asleep in the afternoon because they didn’t have the energy to make it through the day. In 2012, IU started a chicken farm at the school. The chickens produce 28,000 eggs per week.

Sands hired five native Haitians to help to run the bakery in Ouanaminthe. Sands brought a colleague on board, Randy Verdi, who owns the Great Harvest Bread Company in Cleveland. Verdi and Sands go down to Ouanaminthe every other month. They want to keep the bakery on track, maintain some integrity there and make sure of the quality and standard.

“If there is anything the employees need to know or understand, we are there for them,” Sands said.

Sands and Verdi have faced a lot of challenges. They built a state of brand-new equipment, designed specifically for the climate. Sands had his Haitian meltdown moments, because it could reach 90 F in Ouanaminthe. Language is also a barrier. People in Ouanaminthe speak Creole. Sands had to find interpreters to help him. Sands is still $20,000 short from the original budget, and he has to send another container by the end of this year to Haiti.

Youveline Marcelin, 24, got her first job at the bakery, supporting her family with the money she earned. Youveline has two younger sisters and a brother. Her brother, Florvilson Marcelin, is a senior finance major at Kent State and received the President’s Scholarship. He now lives with his host family in Hudson. The first time that Florvilson came to America, he stayed in New York City, and said he could not fall asleep that night. Looking at all the skyscrapers and lights in the city, he couldn’t stop asking himself “How, how, how, how?”

When Florvilson first arrived at Kent State, he also faced a lot of choices. “I wanted to try all the majors, because we did not have that many choices in Haiti,” Florvilson said. He picked chemistry and finance first, but quit chemistry and focused on finance. “I think in our country, we need more people to study business, to create more job opportunities, that’s how we can make a difference,” Florvilson said. He hopes to apply for graduate school.

Sony Ton-Aime is another student from Institution Univers who now studies accounting at Kent State. When asked about his future plans, Ton-Aime said, “I would like to go back to Haiti. Even though I can make more money here in America and send them back to my (family), but it is meaningless for me to be separated from my (family). And I can make a difference in my country. I can be an example for the children there.”

Sands treats Haiti as his second home. Seeing all the children running to him, touching his hands and hair, hearing them saying “Blanc, blanc” (which is white in Creole), Sands fell in love with them. Sands said he finally felt settled in to see the poverty and the needs in Haiti and knew that there was work to do there. Sands has been talking to other people to build a second bakery in South Port-au-Prince. He was contacted by the Clinton Foundation, with the charity interested in using the bakery Sands built in Ouanaminthe as a prototype to build more bakeries.

“When I really committed myself to God, I said ‘use me.’ I meant it. If it is one bakery to feed 2,400 children, or if it is 50-plus bakeries to help feed 10 million people in Haiti, I am up for it, and I am happy to do it,” Sands said.

If you would like to help support the project, donations can be dropped off at the Great Harvest Bread Company in Stow or sent to Christ Community Chapel, 750 W. Streetsboro St., Hudson, OH 44236, attention Paul Wides. Checks should be payable to Christ Community Chapel / Bread 4 Haiti.

Contact Yolanda Li at [email protected].