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Buffalo Dream Center, one of the only mobile food pantries in WNY, steps it up once again.

The Buffalo Dream Center, under the leadership of Pastor Eric Johns and his wife Michelle, continue their role as compassionate leaders of an invaluable community resource. They have now stepped up again, and are helping individuals and families who are being negatively impacted by the economic effects of COVID-19 – just this past week The Dream Center pantry quadrupled its typical weekly supply of provisions given to people in need prior to the pandemic.

Feeding families in need has been a cornerstone in Pastor Eric and Michelle Johns’ ministry for over two decades as they deliver groceries to families in neighborhoods throughout the city of Buffalo in their Joseph Project Mobile Food Pantry, one of the only such mobile food pantries in Western New York.

The pandemic has changed the complexion of those with the greatest need. With more than 17,000,000 people applying for unemployment benefits just in the past three weeks, needy families are now the families that were once two-income households able to support themselves and donate to charitable causes instead of looking for help from charitable organizations as they are today. Their struggle is genuine in trying to manage homes with children out of school all day, practicing social distancing, and juggling financial responsibilities on dramatically reduced incomes.

The Johns believe their effort is a labor of love and that remaining positive is a significant aspect of overcoming the shelter-in-place and stay at home guidelines published by the CDC and imposed by states across the nation is nearly impossible to follow if families need food and basic supplies. Since the onset of the crisis and shelter-in-place orders got underway, the Buffalo Dream Center supplied over 1,200 families with a gift of groceries that included produce and meat as well as dry goods and can goods, either delivered directly to their homes or from mobile food pantry sites. Thirty-three food pallets have been provided to other area ministries, with food donations going to first responders in hospitals and fire departments and nearly 100 homeless individuals have received hot meals.

Dream Center is one of the only mobile food pantries in Western New York.

The Johns family is a source of inspiration. They are devoted to helping lift the burden of need in the community regardless of their own needs, and a key reason to publicly thank and highlight their work at this time because it is not only Pastor John and his wife, it is other family members who are dedicated to service. Their children have joined the ranks of ministry; Melaka Johns is a missionary and Emilie Johns McClinton is serving as a Mission Ignite AmeriCorps member at the center.

“As one of the only mobile food pantries in Western New York, Erie County has asked us to continue our work. Our program is listed as a “high priority” essential service during this pandemic, stated McClinton. “We provide families with nonperishable items, fresh produce, bread, and frozen meat and poultry.”

McClinton went on to say, “The workload for the staff has increased drastically.  My role as an AmeriCorps member is to plan and organize all of the food deliveries, the incoming donations, and the volunteers who help make it all possible. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve through AmeriCorps and help so many people during this crisis.”

Emilie’s husband, Dezmond McClinton, has been with the Dream Center for eight years and manages the warehouse. He reflected on his work, “We see the increased demand because people are laid off and families are struggling to put meals on the table three times a day and worry about basic household needs.”

The lifeblood of the Dream Center are the volunteers. He went on to say, “More volunteers are desperately needed to drive donations to homes. Dream Center volunteers will not come into direct contact with anyone they deliver meals to, and our call for delivery help is urgent.”

Many Dream Center volunteers speak passionately about their service.

“The food is a tool to spread the life and hope to people who are in need and living in fear,” said Colvin Lanthier.

“I enjoy volunteering with the Buffalo Dream Center. It feels really good to get outside and to help other people. I think about the vulnerable times in my own life where I’ve received love and care from others and how invaluable and cherished those moments were. It feels meaningful to be able to give back, hopefully, bring some cheer, and help people know that they matter,” Stated Liz Spector.

“Volunteering at the Buffalo Dream Center is one of the greatest blessings. I get to build relationships with the kids I spend time with each week. I get to listen to their stories, learn about their families, and talk about their experiences in school. Even in this season, when we can’t meet like we normally do, the Buffalo Dream Center gave me the chance to deliver food to some of their families. What a joy to see their faces and know that God is meeting their needs and the needs of our city in so many ways!” said Meredith McLaughlin.

“It has been a blessing to partner with the Buffalo Dream Center and to deliver meals to those in need during the COVID 19 crisis. They are a great organization and a pleasure to work alongside,” stated Karen Carlton.

If you would like to help the community and the Johns’ tireless mission, here are some ways that you can make a difference at this awful time. Volunteers are needed to with social distancing deliver food directly to families and be willing to deliver door to door to the elderly.

“It has been an honor to be a part of a group of people who have not only been delivering food but have also been bringing hope and encouragement to our community,” remarked Pastor Eric John, Lead Pastor of the Buffalo Dream Center. “I have literally seen people crying while standing in line for food, but walk away with a bag of groceries and a huge smile on their face! Our mission has not changed. We are bringing the love of Jesus Christ to the City of Buffalo.”

The next giveaway is Good Friday, Friday, April 10, (today) at 3:30 pm, at the Mobile Food Pantry at the Corner of Maryland and Efner. Also, next week, Wednesday at 4:00 PM – we will be at 175 Oakmont Avenue in Kenfield Homes. For an entire list of giveaways go to Buffalo Dream Center.

Please consider being a part of a team that brings hope to thousands of families. If you need help call (716) 854-1001 or 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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