Pastor renews his Thanksgiving mission for 18th year
For countless Western New Yorkers, this week will bring the return of Thanksgiving traditions including a family meal, Black Friday shopping and other holiday customs. Meanwhile, a Buffalo pastor will renew his annual tradition of sleeping in the streets.
Pastor Eric Johns formally began his journey Monday morning outside his church, the Buffalo Dream Center, on Lafayette Avenue. His plans for the first day of a week-long mission included visits to a local soup kitchen and to the downtown bus shelter to spend time with the homeless.
He was set to sleep outside his church Monday night, and move to other locations throughout the city over the course of the next several days. It's the 18th consecutive year he is doing this.
"This week isn't something where I claim to be a professional on homelessness or even claim to be an expert," Pastor Johns said. "I'm just someone out there to listen and just love people for the week."
His annual trek throughout the streets also raises awareness of his church's Boxes of Love campaign. Each Christmas, the Buffalo Dream Center assembles gift boxes for severely disadvantaged families, providing food and, if there are children, toys. Pastor Johns expects to serve more than 3,000 families in Buffalo and Niagara Falls this Christmas.
He says if there is one thing he has learned through this experience, it's that the people who find themselves homeless do not necessarily meet the stereotype.
"I've met men, women, families, kids, people that were professionals, someone that went through a terrible tragedy, veterans," he said. "All kinds of people that are just having tough times. They're people who are just like you or me, and now they just need someone to help them."
Over the years, Pastor Johns says, people have reached out to help. He says people have seen his story in news broadcasts and, upon learning his whereabouts, arrive to hand him money for his cause. One year, to Johns' surprise, it was one of the homeless who handed him three dollars.
He will not be alone in the cold. His son-in-law, Skylar Shurr and future son-in-law, Dezmond McClinton, will be joining him for their first times on the mission.