Sleeping in parks and under bridges in Buffalo, Punco found Friends of Night People…

At Friends of Night People, You help those who can’t help themselves.  Punco never expected he would need help from a soup kitchen… 

In 1959, a young couple fled Tibet to escape the violence of the Tibet-China Conflict. They found sanctuary in a small hill village in northern India, where they made a home and had three children. The youngest, a boy, was named Punco.

“It was beautiful,” Punco says, a smile taking hold of his mouth. “Mountains. Waterfalls. Forests. Very, very beautiful.”

Despite its beauty, life was not perfect in the village. With little access to education, no heat, and no gainful employment opportunities, Punco’s future was limited. So, Punco’s parents encouraged their children to take part in the Tibetan United States Resettlement Project in 1993, which aimed to resettle 1,000 displaced Tibetans in the United States. Of his entire family, only Punco was selected.

“I saw America in the movies,” Punco explains. “Me, my friends, we say ‘I wish I was over there.’ It was just the dream, y’know?”

Minnesota and life in America wasn’t exactly like the movies, however. Punco found work at a meat-packing plant, putting burgers into boxes, and continued to work there for the better part of seventeen years. Then the lay-off came.

Lonely and unemployed, Punco watched his savings dribble away. He had spent most of his money in 2008, to visit his dying mother in India. The remainder of his savings went to rent, but his growing depression nudged him toward an old crutch: alcohol.

Punco’s journey brought him to Buffalo hoping to find work.  In Buffalo, he found Friends of Night People. For a month or two, he slept in parks and under bridges. One night, he woke up to find his backpack stolen. It had contained photos of his family and a cell phone storing all their phone numbers.

“I don’t know how to contact them,” he says. “They probably think I’m dead. I hope they’re okay.” He smiles, but his eyes are full of misgiving and pain.

Punco’s resourcvefulness, however, saved him from the streets. As soon as he found a shelter, he would make friends with the directors and ask for work.  He then felt better taking advantage of their hot meals, donation closet, and other services.  At Friends of Night People for a while, he assisted with meal prep and cleaning.

“Very good place,” Punco says. “You can eat, take showers, do your laundry. They give you clothes. They have lots of things. And people are very nice here.”

It’s through your support, we could help Punco, and others like him each and every day.

His road to recovery wasn’t easy, and when his alcoholism again took control of him, the community and Friends of Night People helped him.  They found him a rehab center and an apartment. One volunteer even helped him receive unemployment associated with his lay-off from the factory. He hadn’t even known that such a program existed.

Today, Punco is doing well. He has been sober and is renting an apartment. He still frequents Friends of Night People to greet his friends and enjoy a hot, healthy meal.

Despite all he’s been through, Punco is happy and hopeful. When asked what keeps him positive, Punco explains, the importance of his Buddhist beliefs. He says,

“I try to be good inside,” he said, tapping his chest. “If I find a butterfly on the sidewalk, I pick it up and put it somewhere safe. Everything is temporary in this world. Even life. I have two working hands, two legs. I’m very blessed. I’m very thankful.”

When asked if he had anything else to add, Punco says,

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the community in Buffalo. I hope they continue helping others. I pray for them every day. I never regret leaving India. Here, people care about you. If you fall down in the street, someone helps you up. It’s not like that everywhere.”

In some ways, Punco’s life mirrors the butterflies he saves from the sidewalk. As a community, we come together to help those who can’t help themselves. We put them somewhere safe and support them until, someday, they’re able to save themselves. You and I, and Friends of Night People are an important part of this cycle of care.