Rolling up with food and and a friendly voice during the pandemic

Apr 17, 2020

A Buffalo pastor and his church's mobile food pantry parked outside the Belle Community Center on Maryland Street in Buffalo Friday. It was just the latest stop since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived five weeks ago. It's an ongoing mission to bring food, and a moment of interaction, to many local families in need.

Pastor Eric Johns of the Buffalo Dream Center is perhaps known best by most of Western New York as the preacher who, around Thanksgiving every year, spends days and nights living among the area's homeless to raise awareness and resources. On a cold Friday April morning, he was donning a mask while he and other volunteers greeted a steady line of people coming for a bag of groceries.

Pastor Erie Johns (right) and volunteers prepare to distribute food Friday morning to families in need outside the Belle Community Center on Maryland Street in Buffalo.
Credit Dave Debo, WBFO

"At the Buffalo Dream Center, we've had the privilege of having the only mobile food pantry in Buffalo now for several years. We load up food on a truck and bring it into neighborhoods that are in need," he said. "We do this all year long on a regular basis. So when the pandemic hit, we were really equipped and ready to go, already, to help people."

Pastor Johns estimates they served up to 200 families at this stop alone. With more scheduled stops throughout the weekend, he told WBFO he expects they will have served up to 2,500 families by Sunday.

The care packages also include precious supplies including toilet paper. Some of the provisions were donated to the cause by not-for-profit agencies including FeedMore of Western New York, Feed the Children and private contributors.

According to Pastor Johns, there are many families within the city who are unable to travel to a nearby food pantry or supermarket. In some cases, Buffalo Dream Center makes direct deliveries.

It's not just the food that is appreciated. For some, there's also the momentary - though physically distanced - opportunities to enjoy a visitor.

"We give everybody a little flyer with their bag of groceries that says if you need anything at all, call this number. It's got the number for the Dream Center on there," Johns said. "For a lot of people, when we hand them that flyer with that phone number, the reaction on their face ... we've actually had some people just break down and cry, that there's somebody there that they can call and talk. We're checking our voicemails every hour. Even if it's just simply praying with someone and they don't need food, they just want to talk and be encouraged."

Pastor Johns says the project welcomes volunteers. Interested candidates may learn more by visiting Buffalo Dream Center's website.