By Steve Almasy and Anne Clifford, CNN
Mark Johnson II’s efforts to bring comfort and supplies to hundreds of Buffalonians stranded after a massive blizzard begins before dawn every day and goes until almost midnight.
Johnson feels compelled to help, inspired by the memory of a good friend who was killed. Johnson said he could just feel how scared his friend was when he was about to be killed.
“So there was a couple of things that made me just think like, I don’t know, I never want to have anybody that scared, or that alone by themselves,” Johnson told CNN on Thursday from his Mercedes-Benz SUV as he continued his work as a good Samaritan. “So if I could help anybody, that’s what I want to do.”
Johnson, 33, sought to channel his friend’s spirit and be like his buddy, Mark Smith, nicknamed Yoda, who Johnson said would have wanted to help everyone affected by the deadly storm.
Johnson has been driving his SUV around the western New York city since the storm hit, delivering staples like baby diapers, formula, water, and eggs. He brought people inhalers and drove others to dialysis appointments. At first he was basically a one-man, self-funded operation, defying a now-lifted ban on driving in the city.
“I just said to myself, I don’t care if I get a ticket or what (for driving), I just got to get out and do this. I don’t know how my car made it,” said Johnson, who owns CBD Buffalo, which he says is holistic store that caters to healing the nature way. He says he got two tickets but never paused his supply runs.
While he was constantly filling his SUV to the brim with goods, someone told him he’d be able to find even more people to help by joining the Facebook group, Buffalo Blizzard 2002.
Buffalo residents were posting all sorts of problems. Some needed to be dug out, some were freezing in homes with no heat, and some were parents worried about their kids.
One person who needed help was a mother, Shahida Muhammad, who had a 1-year-old baby in desperate need of place with power so they could use the ventilator the child needs to breathe. Without it, Muhammad and her husband had to, for three days, help the baby take breaths to keep him alive. When he first saw them, “They had no color left in their faces,” he said. “They had been pumping air into their child for 72 hours. “
Johnson and another man helped get the family to her mother’s home but not without first having to struggle through waist-deep snow.
“It was very scary,” she told CNN.
Muhammad said she has asthma and since she had lost her shoes in the trek and just a jacket on, the frigid air really hit her lungs hard. She stopped to catch her breath.
Johnson grabbed the baby and coached her to control her breathing, while her husband helped her take the arduous steps to the home.
Her baby, Major Brown, is doing well. “His numbers are great. We have no problems at all,” she said.
Johnson applauded her strength and will to preserve and protect her child. “I’m like if she can do this, and I’m fortunate enough to help other people then I should be doing that,” he said.
The Facebook group has been a blessing for Johnson’s efforts. “It’s saved a lot of lives,” he said.
On Wednesday, Johnson, who is asking for donations and not cash, asked people to order pizzas that he delivered. He brought more than 250 hot pies to people in need of food, he said.
“Warm pizza is now a luxury in my city,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Some people from outside the city have heard of the efforts or seen Johnson’s videos posted to the Buffalo Blizzard 2022 group and have come to help. On Thursday, a man name Mike drove his pickup from Rochester, allowing Johnson and his helpers to pick up and deliver even more goods.
Johnson will be getting out and about Friday just after 6 a.m. He’ll go until 11 p.m. taking goods and hope wherever they are needed.
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CNN’s Anne Clifford reported from New York and Steve Almasy wrote in Atlanta.