Mary Yoder's 8-foot-long table is laden with gifts.

Bags of groceries, socks and clothes and toys and books for her five children — not to mention the baby on the way — are spread out over the wooden surface.

The gifts are a physical witness to the support of her Amish community.

But they're also a testament to the power of social media and a world hungry for "feel good" stories, according to Susan Hougelman, owner of Simple Life Tours and the Tavern on the Square restaurant in New Wilmington.

On Oct. 3, Yoder's 37-year-old husband Steven was killed in an industrial accident at Omega, Inc., in Wheatland. Mercer County Coroner John A. Libonati said the accident was caused by a "kick back" from a piece of sawmill equipment and that Yoder died of a head wound, despite wearing safety equipment.

Like other tragedies that occur in the Amish community of Lawrence County, his death put into action a major effort by Yoder's friends, neighbors and fellow church-goers to support his widow and family in their grief. The community's outpouring of love gained the attention of Hougelman, who regularly gives tours of Amish farms and businesses to visitors to the area.

On her Facebook page, "Simple Life in New Wilmington," Hougelman recounted the Yoders' story, and before long, the post had millions of views from people around the world and tens of thousands of people had shared it.

"This is community. This is church. When there is a need, it is taken care of. Not by a few, but by all," she wrote. "Let our eyes see the needs. Let our ears hear the cries. Let our hands pitch in to do the dirty work. Many hands make light work. We all need each other."


On Oct. 15 — less than two weeks after Yoder's death — nearly five dozen men and dozens of women descended on his farm to help Mary and the couple's five children.

"It was mostly her neighborhood that helped ... there were 60 work horses, 10 plows, three cultivators to work the ground, two grain drills," said Andy Byler, who is a part of Mary's church district. "There was a total of 57 men, and they done a lot of work in the barns and getting ready for winter."

He explained that the men installed a new footer on the farm's corn crib, cut firewood, planted 10 acres of fall crops and repaired the barn and stall doors. Alone, it would have taken Steven weeks to accomplish all the work they did in one day, Byler said.

"My wife said Mary had a hard day that day," noted Byler, sitting behind a desk in his cabinet-making shop. "I guess she couldn't believe all of it; she was humbled."

Hougelman said the Amish have a tradition of visiting with those who have lost a family member for months after the death occurs. Byler said he and his wife recently visited Mary and her children, taking her a casserole for dinner.

"That'll continue for quite a while, even up to a year," he said.

"You're never alone in your grief," Hougelman said. "It's beautiful."

Patrick Chovan, president of Omega Inc., in a letter to the editor published in the Sharon Herald, wrote about Yoder's death, saying he "worked his tail off with a joyful attitude before heading home to tend to the family farm."

The Amish community's "strength during tragedy should be an inspiration to all of us," Chovan said. "We all stand to learn a thing or two from their way of life."


Hougelman continues to be amazed at the response to her Facebook post. She's received hundreds of letters and calls from people asking how they can help.

"People are sending Mary cards to the Tavern and to Teena's Quilt Shop," she said, referring to the Amish store on Route 208 in Wilmington Township.

Furthermore, Hougelman has received donations from all over the world of cash, gift cards and other gifts for the Yoders.

Sitting at the top of a "Sunshine Box" in Chris and Linda Byler's dry goods store on Means Road is a box full of treats and toys bearing foreign packaging — a gift from a woman in Germany.

"The Amish put these boxes in their stores so people can donate things and help out each other," Hougelman explained. "They'll write on it, 'This is for the Byler family whose child is in Children's Hospital,' or something like that, and people will put in socks and toys and food items, just to spread a little sunshine to that family. They're constantly getting filled up."

She added that Lawrence County attorney Dallas Hartman is among those who were inspired by the story, and he's been in touch with her in order to arrange a fundraiser for the family.

Until the plans for that event are underway, Hougelman encouraged people to donate to the Mary Yoder fund at any branch of First National Bank.

"She'll need help for a long time," Andy Byler said, "until her children grow. She'll need money, just like everybody else. She'll need food and clothes. It's not unusual for us to give help — we try to keep that up."

"This community really comes together to help," Hougelman agreed. "What impressed me so much is that they say if they all give a little, she'll have a lot. And it's so true."


Jessica Shelenberger is a former feature writer, city editor and assistant editor for The News. She taught writing and journalism courses at Westminster College.

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