Free PB&J sandwich is part of this comfort package

  • Mark Kuipers of New Windsor takes Richard Yoder up on his offer of a free lunch as Yoder makes more sandwiches while Yoder's wife, Sonya, looks on.
Mark Kuipers of New Windsor takes Richard Yoder up on his offer… (Photo by Phil Grout )
January 28, 2013|By Phil Grout

Most days, the college trained chemist analyzes the wastewater from the Westminster treatment plant before it's discharged into Big Pipe Creek.

But once a month, acting on his Christian faith, Richard Yoder and his wife, Sonya, set up on the lawn in front of Kohn Creative in the old Westminster Post Office at 83 East Main Street.

There, they hand out sack lunches of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, chips and lemonade. During the cold weather, they provide hot soup and cocoa in addition to the PB&J.

They've been doing their free lunch ministry since 2009.

"I don't have all the answers," Yoder said. "I depend on God, what He wants me to do.

"It's just that there seems to be a widening gap between the haves and have-nots," he said. "And there are a lot of companies who don't realize their biggest asset are their people. And they're letting people go."

Back in 1987, the then-27-year-old Yoder was out of work, living on dog food and wondering where to turn.

"I didn't like people," he said.

But apparently, he said, a criminal gang liked him.

"I found out later they'd been keeping an eye on me. I had a black belt in the martial arts. I could handle a knife. I can shoot a pistol or rifle. They liked the fact I was a chemist," he said. "I just didn't care then, about anything."

Then, for a reason he cannot explain, Yoder found himself in a church.

"I had an experience that's indescribable," he said. "It helped me realize there was a God, and that he cared about me and was going to take care of me."

He got back into chemistry and found his way to Westminster where he's been a chemist for the city since 1990.

Three years ago, Yoder looked around and saw a lot of people who were hurting as the economy took a downturn.

"I wanted people to get their hope back and let them know that God cares," he said.

A friend suggested free lunches. It wasn't long before Yoder and his wife had set up operations on the sidewalk across from the library in Westminster.

Their arrival was not welcomed unanimously. "Some businesses complained, and then there was the health department," Yoder said.

Now, Yoder gets the required permit from the health department every time he sets up in front of Kohn Creative, a full-service graphic design and marketing firm that has welcomed the Yoders and their benevolence.

Yoder buys his bread, peanut butter, jelly, chips and drink powder from Shoppers super- market for $25 to $30 each time he sets up.

Then, in accordance with health department standards, the Yoders make the sandwiches on the spot at Kohn Creative.

The sandwiches are bagged with chips, cookies and a drink on the side.

Yoder said he sees a lot of homelessness in Westminster. Recently, the body of a homeless woman was recovered from a site of small fire in the rear dock area of the Westminster Rescue Mission store on West Main Street.

"People don't realize there are upwards of maybe 150 people who are homeless in the area," he said. "And more and more people are living in their vehicle."

There have been times when Yoder has intervened and helped some get on their feet. "But it's a complicated situation with no easy answers," he said.

Yoder's grandfather was Amish who later joined the Dunker church.

Yoder was raised Methodist and later switched to the Lutheran church. But there seemed to be something missing, and he kept searching until he found the Christian Revival Center in Finksburg.

"I searched for six years until I found a church that really taught what was in the Bible," he said.

Following those teachings has led Richard Yoder to the streets to offer a free lunch to anyone "so that God can get the credit for it all."

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