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On The Streets with The Homeless Pastor’s Family

Watching “The Homeless Pastor”, Eric Johns, 47, and almost the entire Johns family sitting at Spot Coffee early in the morning before Thanksgiving was inspiring. It was a different atmosphere from the past, as his two granddaughters were underfoot. Ethne, one year-old, was smiling at everyone with her joyful greeting “hi.” Spot Coffee on Delaware is a traditional place for respite for Pastor Eric, who lives on the streets with the homeless for one week, to raise money for the Buffalo Dream Center’s Boxes of Love program.

Alex, Eric, Dezmond and Nate

On this 20th year, Pastor Johns, his sons, Nate Johns, 14, Alex Johns, 15, and sons-in-law, Skylar Shurr, 25 and Dezmond McClinton, 24, have been living on the streets to raise money for their Boxes of Love effort, which strives to help over 3,000 homeless and poor families with food and toys for this Christmas. “Now that my brothers-in-law are living on the street with us, they are truly part of the family,” said Nate.  Pastor Eric Johns and family left their warm homes on Monday, November 19th to live with the homeless. They will not come back home until Saturday, November 24th.

“Experiencing this homeless week opened my eyes, a glimpse of what it might be like to take over my parents’ work. I am old enough to understand what it is like to be in another man’s world and to minister to them,” said Alex Johns. “Dezmond went on the street with his father-in-law to shed a light on the problem of homelessness in Buffalo and give hope to those in need.”

A week on the wintery streets of Buffalo does not leave the Buffalo Dream Center’s Boxes of Love organization cold.  For two decades Pastor Michelle Christine Johns has had the lead and managed everything it took to help all those almost 40,000 families since the beginning. She coordinated the tens of thousands of volunteers, gathered all the food and toys, and managed gift wrapping for two decades. Pastor Michelle Christine Johns has come into her own, as an international woman’s lecturer. She is now presently in Nepal holding women’s conferences.

2018 has been coined “The Year of the Woman”. Most years, the Buffalo Dream Center’s Boxes of Love has had strong female leadership. This year, the Johns daughters, Victoria Johns-Shurr, 24, and Emilie Johns-McClinton, 22, are taking up the reins for their mom.

Emilie and Victoria at summercamp
Michelle, Emilie, Victoria and Eric

“With my mother away, a lot more responsibility falls on Victoria and my shoulders,” remarked Emilie Johns-McClinton. “My husband Dezmond and I run the Boxes of Love warehouse. Seeing my mother set up for volunteers, she always made it look so easy. Growing up in this ministry, it is not overwhelming, but it is clearly a more responsible role.”

Watching these brilliant young children grow up to be capable young women in the shadow of their parents’ ministry, serving the poor, has been touching. “Not having my mom is a really beneficial learning experience; mostly I am discovering how to work with volunteers,” stated Victoria Johns-Shurr. “I think it is cool that we are following in our parents’ legacy of caring!”

“Michelle is an outstanding leader; I still get to talk to her every day,” said Rev. Eric Johns, Buffalo Dream Center pastor. “This year she is unable to even trade places with me for a few hours, as she had in the past. With her out, it is a challenge for my daughters. Even so, they are ready to lead. We have not experienced a traditional Thanksgiving for over twenty years. We meet at Spot Coffee in the morning of the day, we see our way to a shelter for lunch, and then as a family we deliver 250 Thanksgiving meals.”

The Johns family is truly an inspiration to all of us. They are truly devoted to the cause, which is why I like to shine a spotlight on them during the holiday season. It’s rare to see such devotion in any many or woman, let alone an entire family.

If you want to help the Johns and their tireless mission, here are some ways that you can make a difference.

  • Black Friday there are a lot of deals on toys. Please keep Boxes of Love in mind – toys for boys and girls ages up to 17.
  • Cyber Monday shop on and choose the Buffalo Dream Center as your charity. A percent of your purchase will go to the Buffalo Dream Center.
  • If your shopping is done, don’t forget about Giving Tuesday. Donate to the Buffalo Dream Center – it’s especially important this time of year.
  • The ‘Art of Giving’ Get-Together, December 13 @ 7:00 pm: CASA DI Francesca’s: $25 admission – Enjoy three hours of open bar, hors-d’oeuvres, and dinner. Live art auction, with donated works from gifted local artists. 100% of the proceeds will go to Boxes of Love.
  • You can help by volunteering your time and by making a contribution.

Please consider being a part of their team that brings hope to thousands of inner-city families every December. Call (716) 854-1001 or email for further information.

Written by Mark Lazzara

Mark Lazzara

I have a passion for helping my fellow Western New Yorkers and advance the great things that are going on in this region. Buffalo Rising is a great booster and it’s a blast writing and contributing to BR about positive happenings in our neck of the woods. I appreciate the help I’ve received over the years from organizations and people who share my passion and supported me in efforts that put thousands of people to work and resulted in a community give back of more than $115M to Buffalo’s neediest during my days at the helm of AmeriCorps.

I’m especially grateful for the opportunities that enabled me to help cities devastated by Hurricane Katrina and rebuild more than 700 family homes that were destroyed. Back at home, I was able to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience as a coordinator for ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition where we were able to repair, beautify and upgrade homes for an entire neighborhood on Buffalo’s Westside. Other projects close to my heart include a collaboration with Sail Buffalo to build the Cazenovia Boating Center at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, and my annual Christmas season time is spent at Buffalo’s treasure, the Broadway Market, playing Santa Clause.

In my other life, I am a workforce development, business, marketing, public relations and fundraising professional. Earned a M.S. Human Service Management from Buffalo State, and enjoy my family life that includes four amazing grandchildren!

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