Church that housed 150+ people in blizzard now even better prepared for future storms

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — One year after the deadly Christmas blizzard, a couple who housed more than 150 people are even better prepared to help in the future.

Al and Vivian Robinson run Spirit of Truth Urban Ministry in the center of Lovejoy. And boy, is there a whole lot of love inside those doors.

“If we didn’t open up that door, how many bodies would’ve been in this community by itself because they were here?” Vivian Robinson, a co-pastor at the church, asks.

The building acted as a beating heart, which kept dozens of people alive.

“We did not know that it was going to turn out the way it was going to turn out,” Vivian said.

When the snow started falling, the Robinsons realized their church was on the only block in the neighborhood that maintained power. So they posted an invite on a neighborhood Facebook page.

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“It was shared 1,770 times within just a few hours, and our phones just started ringing and ringing and ringing,” Al Robinson said.

As background, the building is home to more than just a church. It’s also home to the Robinsons themselves, plus a full chef’s kitchen and restaurant. And in the week leading up to Christmas, all the cupboards and fridges were full.

“We have a large family,” Al said. “So we were planning for a really robust Christmas.”

Not only was there plenty of food, but there just so happened to be dozens of mattresses in storage.

“We have a sober living home that we had just sold to build a tiny house, sober living village in Buffalo,” Al said. “And so we had all these beds and stuff that were here, and we put in storage.”

So when people started showing up, the Robinsons were ready.

“We opened the door up for a young family… she was pregnant, she was from Jamestown, their vehicle had gotten stuck and they walked to the church from wherever they were stuck,” Al said.

In the meantime, a man with a snowmobile heard about the church.

“I reached out to Al and said, ‘Listen, I’m in the area with my snowmobile, is there anything I can do to help you?'” Bill Kless said. “Sure enough, he had a list a long list. And he says, ‘You got any friends,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah.'”

Kless made his way to Gold Street with his three friends, who also own sleds. And while they were out saving people to bring there, a call came in from a woman who couldn’t walk. She lived three blocks away and was freezing.

“She said, ‘Please don’t let me die here… please don’t let me die here,'” Al said.

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Al decided he needed to get her. But it was going to be difficult because he broke his back in 2015.

“I walked all the way down there, got there and she just held on to me and dragged her legs through the snow all the way back until we got to the church,” Al said. “I know that was a God moment by definition because there is no way on Earth I could’ve done that at all. Not at all. But I did it. God was with me that day … and her.

As the people poured in, Vivian gave the ‘able and willing’ tasks. There was a triage area for people who were hurt. One person was in charge of the bathrooms, and there were cooks in the kitchen.

“It was like a big family,” Vivian said. “I brought the TV out.”

“And the Xbox,” Al chimed in. “The kids were having a good time. (We had) Foosball and all the rooms were filled with bodies.”

Some people didn’t even speak English.

“We had four different languages here, and one person was deaf and couldn’t hear at all,” Al said.

And a couple of people were on oxygen.

“They were sharing it as well,” Vivian said.

And when they all woke up on Christmas Day, they were a family who all survived one of the worst storms in Buffalo history.

“On Christmas day, they didn’t even discuss presents,” Vivian said. “Presents wasn’t even a topic on the table, it was like them enjoying each other and being alive.”

“It was a lesson I learned of love that transcends any lesson that my wife or I could learn apart or together in our lives,” Al said. “It was love on another level that I did not know before that incident.”

Afterward, the Robinsons received donations from people who stayed there and others who heard about their generosity. With the money, they bought military mattresses, toiletries, diapers, formula and non-perishable food. They even bought a 60,000 kilowatt generator in case the power ever goes out.

They’re ready to be a sanctuary again during any future storms that come our way.

During the blizzard, the roof of the church got badly damaged. Click here to donate to a fundraiser to help repair the roof.

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Kelsey Anderson is an award-winning anchor who came back home to Buffalo in 2018. See more of her work here and follow her on Twitter.

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