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Response to Love Center's pillow drive gets gift from Lt. Governor

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Michael Mroziak, WBFO
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A Christmas-season charity drive to support a mission in Buffalo's East Side got a boost Monday, when Lieutenant Kathy Hochul paid a visit to the Response To Love Center, bringing new pillows that will soon provide comfort to needy individuals.

Sister Mary Johnice, who directs the Center, says the pillow collection drive was inspired by two children who wanted to donate their bed so that someone who lacked one could have theirs. When their father advised them that they couldn't give a bed away, it was recommended they instead consider the gift of pillows.

"They said 'Sister, can we give a pillow to everybody?' I said why is that, and they said 'because when Jesus was born, he probably didn't have a pillow,'" Sister Johnice explained.

Her office inside the former schoolhouse now has a large pile of pillows. Lt. Governor Hochul, after delivering more donations, got a tour of the Center to see the various other services provided. There is a food pantry on the first floor. Upstairs in one of the classrooms, several women were taking part in an English language class. In all, Sister Johnice explained, 65 people from nine difference countries are studying under the program.

Hochul spoke of how the Center is impacting lives not just during the holiday season but also throughout the rest of the year. She encouraged those who come forward to help during this time of year to think beyond the holidays.

"To know that the work of the Response To Love Center continues not just around the holiday time but year-round, whether they're teaching young people from young countries English, whether they're providing food, nutrition, medical services, they do so much here," Hochul said. "I want people to keep them not just in their prayers but also in their thoughts, in their opportunity to serve others by stopping off and bringing a pillow."

Sister Johnice showed Hochul a "Wall of Fame" featuring many graduates of the English Language program. Many who passed through earned a high school diploma, and in many cases gained U.S. citizenship. She has attended many of those citizenship ceremonies.

The first challenge, she admitted, was getting the students to simply feel comfortable. Sister Johnice noted that those they serve come from various backgrounds, including different religious faiths.

"One day, one of the people came and said 'Sister, I'm going for surgery. Will you pray for me?'" she told WBFO. "I was really stunned and astonished that she would ask for prayer, coming from another creed and culture. She said to me, "Sister, you have your God, I have our God. But we have one God.' That really changed my thinking and their thinking as well."

The pillow drive continues, with remote collections scheduled for later this month. Flying Bison Brewery in Buffalo will host collections this Friday (December 9) and on the afternoon of December 17. The final scheduled collection away from the Center is scheduled for Sunday morning, December 18 at St. Stephen's Roman Catholic Church in Grand Island.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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