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'Tis the season for giving in Buffalo

For the twelfth straight year, the Buffalo Dream Center and Hearts for the Homeless teamed up to feed individuals and families in need.

Every year the holidays come and go with their familiar traditions.  One that is becoming a staple is Buffalo Dream Center Pastor Eric Johns' Boxes of Love project.

This year it had over 800 volunteers help put together packages of food and toys for more than 2,000 families. Inspiration for the project came years ago while Johns was working with inner-city kids.

"As I got to know them, I found out that Christmas wasn't a special day for a lot of them," said Johns. "It was just another day off school and they weren't looking forward to things I looked forward to when I was a kid at Christmas. Getting up in the morning and opening presents. The kids we reached out to didn't have that"

From this, Boxes of Love was born. Johns has lived with the homeless the past 18 years during every Thanksgiving weekend to create publicity for the project. They have gone from helping 200 children their initial year to an estimated 4,000 children this holiday season.

To celebrate all the goodwill, a Christmas Eve dinner is held for those in need.

"For about 20 years, our church was in the downtown area and all the homeless would just walk to our Christmas Eve dinner," said Johns. "Now that we're on the upper west side we rent buses. Last year we had two full buses from people on the street."

Hearts for the Homeless has a mobile soup kitchen that feeds the homeless five nights a week. 12 years ago they teamed up with The Buffalo Dream Center so they could feed people in a warm building.

"I think its an important tradition for a lot of people who are on the streets now," said Johns. "It's exciting to see them come every year. Since we've moved it to a neighborhood with a high refugee population, we're seeing families from Burma, countries in Africa... It just means a lot to them because they don't have a lot."

Many refugees don't have much when they come to this country. Johns collaborates with agencies like Jericho Road and other catholic agencies to help provide appliances, furniture, clothing, and beds to help get them started.  It is a big reason the Buffalo Dream Center knows many of those who need aid during the holiday season.

"It is important that we are there throughout the year for people," said Johns. "This is the time of year that people focus on charities and give during the holiday season, but really the need is there all year long."

In a season preaching goodwill for all, Pastor Eric Johns reminds us that sentiment should be shared year round.

"Anybody's life that I've seen take a turnaround for the better is because they built a relationship with someone that was able to help them. It's not just about the programs we run or the free meals that we give. It's about being involved in the lives of people throughout the year."

Happy holidays.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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