It started with a Facebook post on Christmas Eve: “Is everyone Good? Checking in.” While many responded to Buffalo pastor Vivian Gallon-Robinson’s question in the affirmative amid a brutal winter storm, the conditions ignited a rush of action to help those who had been catapulted into dire circumstances. 

Gallon-Robinson and her husband Al Robinson, pastors of the nondenominational church Spirit of Truth Urban Ministry in Buffalo, New York, jumped into action to help those who they discovered were struggling through what was soon called the “blizzard of the century.” The couple immediately started asking for help assisting people who were stranded, and shortly thereafter, issued a short statement that was shared more than 1,500 times: “Our doors to the church are open to you.” 

It wasn’t long before roughly 127 people found their way through the church’s doors. The Robinsons provided them with pillows, blankets, towels, toothbrushes and other essential items. And, using the rest of the food that was in their own refrigerator, the pastor couple fed them, they shared on Facebook.

Gwen Simmons Eldridge said on Facebook that her family became stranded in the storm and were looking for shelter at around 3 a.m. one morning when they came across the couple’s church. 

“Without hesitation you both opened the doors of the church in the wee hours of the morning,” she said along with a photo of dozens of people gathered at the church. “…When you look at this picture you see the true meaning of Christmas. You brought strangers together on Christmas morning and gave them the gift of love and a place to be warm, fed and safe.” 

The conditions in Buffalo over the holiday weekend were some of the worst the area has seen. Within days of the storm, there were nearly 52 total inches of snow throughout Erie County, in which Buffalo lies.

Al Robinson shared on Facebook that even as they were working to help all that they could, it was still “impossible” to help many others. 

“We couldn’t even get to my mom,” he said. “The visibility was atrociously unbearable to drive. … I have a truck with a plow and we couldn’t get out simply because we just can’t see.” 

Even still, the couple did their best to take people in over the next few days. While his wife seemingly coordinated the goings-on at the church, Al worked with others in the community to form a rescue team of sorts. He put out a call for people with snowmobiles and other terrain vehicles to rescue people from stranded cars and homes left without heat. 

Many families who ended up at the church stayed there for days, and the Robinsons kept them sheltered, fed and warm through the ordeal. It wasn’t until Thursday that Gallon-Robinson posted they were taking care of their final family – six days after initially taking people in. 

One man and his wife from Niagara Falls had been stranded in their car on the road for around 17 hours when “some guy gave us a ride on a snowmobile one at a time to this amazing place that they have here.” 

“They took us in with open arms,” he said in a video posted on Gallon-Robinson’s Facebook. “… It was better than being home. They fed us, they had the football game on. It was such an amazing experience.”

On Wednesday, Al Robinson continued to help those in the community, posting a video in which he says he’s helping deliver diapers, baby formula and other supplies to those who need it. 

“This is a natural disaster for the city of Buffalo,” he said. “… We want to make sure you guys have the things you need.”  

The Christmas weekend storm was the Buffalo’s deadliest of all time, with at least 31 deaths in the city. Dozens of others have died across several other states because of the storm. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said on Thursday that the toll for Erie County as a whole is now at least 39, and that the bodies of many of the people were found outside or in their cars. 

The storm also caused turmoil for those who were planning on taking flights during the holidays, with Southwest Airlines in particular having to cancel about two-thirds of its flights over the course of several days. It wasn’t until Friday that the carrier said normal operations would resume