BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — You could call Sister Mary Johnice an angel on earth.
She is the director of the Response to Love Center, a safe haven for people hit by life's tragedies.
It is a place where people can receive basic necessities in a judgment-free zone.
Response to Love Center director, Sister Mary Johnice told Pheben Kassahun, "It's not just giving to the people, but it's giving ourselves that I think is very, very much important because many feel abandoned. Many feel lost, many are looking for acceptance."
Sister Johnice has been the director for 35 years.
She said with a smile, "We love them. They're ours. They're our family."
Clients begin by going through the intake process, taking note of whether they need things like school supplies, toiletries and food.
"We decided to give people the client choice," Response to Love Center intake worker, Sharon Schneider said. "It's better for the client. We're giving them the food that they will eat. Not what we think they should eat. In other words, if they're not a vegetable eater, we're not going to make them into a vegetable eater."
Sister Johnice said, "Even in the food pantry, it's choose what you want to eat. We don't fill a food bag and say, 'Here's your food. What do you want?' What they can do is what they can really eat. We have people from different countries and they need halal food, so we provide that for the people as well. That's a big change for us as the days go on. We have found that people can't eat the same foods if they're from another country so we respect that and their faith just like they respect us as well."
Once the intake process is complete, clients can head downstairs to the dining hall to grab a hot meal for here or to-go.
Aside from helping with human services, the center also works to educate its clients to become self-efficient, and offers adult education for free.
"We have cooking classes now for the people, yoga classes and arts and craft," Sister Johnice said. "The tables have little pots that they painted, with the flowers in the dining room. We want people to feel it's their building. It's not mine. It's a community place where people come together."
There is also one-on-one advocacy and mentoring, spiritual enrichment, and every step of the way volunteers are needed.
Sister Johnice said, "We could use volunteers who really have a heart to volunteer. It's not just providing a service but it's being with a person one-on-one, talking to them, accepting them, being nonjudgmental. That's very important for a volunteer to come."
This "loving response" spreads beyond the corners of Kosciuszko Street and Sycamore Street.
Response to Love, led by Sister Mary Johnice, has been on the front lines of the healing process to promote love and unity to the victims and first responders, amid a time when the Queen City has been in a state of shock and grief, during the Tops mass shooting.
Sister Johnice said, "That's what we're trying to do here, to make the city just a little bit better. Maybe the whole world a little better, and through talking to our people, inviting them to make the world better as well."
Anyone who would like to become a volunteer can call the center at at (716) 894-7030.
Volunteers work an average of three hours per shift. Positions like intake worker, food pantry distributor and meal preparers are available.
The center is open from Monday to Thursday from 9-11:30 a.m.
On Tuesdays, the center provides vegetables and on Wednesdays, the center provides fruits. The center is also accepting donations in the form of toiletries, school supplies, cleaning supplies, juices and especially cookies.