NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. -- Each Monday in our City Shapers segment we highlight the work of someone or a group of people in Western New York impacting the community. This week, 2 On Your Side's Kelly Dudzik introduces us to a pastor who is making a big difference in the lives of families in need in North Tonawanda.
John Paul McLaughlin grew up in Syracuse and moved to Buffalo for the first time 20 years ago.
"I remember living in Syracuse watching all of the Super Bowls and nobody was rooting with me. Just me. And then when we moved to Buffalo, I just felt like I was home," says McLaughlin.
John Paul is the Executive Pastor of Lumber City Church in North Tonawanda. He's also one of the coordinators of Box of Hope, which is modeled after the Boxes of Love drive at the Buffalo Dream Center.
"We were kind of like the North Tonawanda outpost for that. So, families would come and register, and they would get a turkey and some groceries, and then we'd give them food, and then they'd go home. We kind of saw an opportunity there to take it a step further, and we're partnered with Renewal Church, and Nash Road Church, as well as Lumber City Church here," he says.
The first time John Paul did a Box of Hope drive, they had 15 families registered to receive food.
"The next outreach we did, we knocked on the door of the middle school and we just said, can you help us out? Are there names you can give us or are there families that you know need help?" he explained.
By Christmas in 2015, 93 families had registered for presents and groceries. After that, word got out, and Box of Hope ended up partnering with every school in the North Tonawanda School District.
"So, it's really grown into something a lot bigger than we ever imagined. This past Christmas, 2016, we had 172 families registered who got gifts for every child in the household up to 18 as well as food for their families," he says.
There's another drive at the end of the school year to help families with food and a school supply and food drive before the school year starts.
"We have families that adopt or sponsor families and they want to help them again the next year. So, they're constantly in communication with these families. They're actually building friendships and we've even had people come to the church and become our friends through this," says McLaughlin.
Anyone can help, you do not need to be a church member. John Paul says it's all about caring for your neighbors no matter what their situation is.
"City of Good Neighbors. It's named that for a reason I think. People really do want to help each other. I mean, you can just see it the people coming together. Sometimes we get all these registrations and I don't know how we're going to be able to fill that many boxes of food or that many presents or whatever and people are just so generous and willing to give, so it's contagious for sure," he says.
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