This past weekend, the Buffalo Dream Center and their mobile food pantry reached a milestone. They have served 10,000 families since the beginning of the pandemic and they don't expect to be slowing down anytime soon.
The Dream Center’s mobile food pantry has been operating for about 20 years. Pastor Eric Johns said that experience prepared them for this year's increased workload.
“The FeedMore of Western New York really relied on us to be able to continue to do that, but at a greater capacity," Johns said. "And so we've really increased about five times of what we're doing. And we're going into the same neighborhoods that we have been for years, but then also targeting neighborhoods that are higher need neighborhoods for food pantries that closed down.”
Johns said several local food pantries run by seniors haven’t been able to operate during the pandemic. It’s one of the many differences the Dream Center has encountered in their mission to feed the hungry so far this year.
“One of the main differences is the emotion of the people that are standing in line for food," Johns said. "We've got a lot of families that are going through different things. And they really had problems before COVID-19. And now that just multiplies things for them."
Johns said he expects the need for food pantries to grow in the coming weeks, but believes the community will continue to meet the challenge of supporting each other. The Dream Center has had over 2000 volunteers come through their organization over the past 19 weeks.
“I've talked to a lot that never thought they would ever be in a line for food and without benefits. Maybe being cut or things happening. I'm sure that that will continue to take place," he said. "You know, I've even talked to people that are homeless right now that have never been homeless in their life and not chronically homeless people, but by people that are at our outreaches for the homeless during the week, because we help them out to that. Never thought they would be sleeping in a shelter or in a line for food. So I would say the need is going to continue to be out there and we want to continue to meet that need.”
Johns said he knows how hard it can be to ask for help, but encourages people in need to seek it out and help others when they get back on their feet.
“I've had people literally just crying in line and that is not an exaggeration," he said. "There there are people that are just overwhelmed and crying and very emotional. Sometimes there's really no words except that we're there for them to help them.”
Through the process, the Dream Center has allocated more time for work they didn't think would be in such high demand, including an increase in their social media presence.
“When we give groceries to a family, we also give them a little little card that has our our number on it that just says call if you need help, or call if you need prayer," Johns said. "And we have a lady, that's her full time job right now. Just answering those calls and praying with people. I think some people just get comfort to know that someone is there for them.”
Anybody who wants to volunteer or make a donation can visit http://www.buffalodreamcenter.org/