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Every Easter, James Johnson’s mom goes out of her way to ensure his legacy of goodness lives on.

Johnson died unexpectedly four years ago at age 24.

His mother, with the help of others, has spent every Easter since then making dozens of baskets for the kids at St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy on Buffalo’s East Side.

Sunday, the homemade baskets will be handed out for the fifth year in a row, and Michele Johnson couldn’t be more proud of what she and her cadre of volunteers – there are about 10 of them - have accomplished in memory of her son.

“He was such a big kid,” said Johnson, a well-known community activist. “He would love this. I know he’s smiling down on us.”

When her son died in January 2009, Johnson knew she needed to find a way to get through the holidays.

She decided it was best to do it, not by mourning James’ death, but by celebrating his life.

Instead of dwelling on her loss, which would have been easy, she elected to remember his good nature, his genuine love for people and his extraordinarily large circle of friends and family.

And what better way to do that, she thought, than helping young children.

“It doesn’t take away the pain,” Johnson said, “but it keeps me from getting depressed. It helps me get through the holidays.”

It also means dozens of kids will wake up Easter morning and have a basket of goodies – one of James’ true loves was candy and junk food – waiting for them at St. Luke’s.

The Easter baskets are actually just one part of Johnson’s campaign to honor her son.

Every Christmas, she and her fellow volunteers host a party and make Christmas stockings for the children at St. Luke’s.

For some kids, it’s the only gift they receive.

Even more important, perhaps, there’s been an unintended consequence to Johnson’s work, a kind of spin-off effect on other people.

Everytime she talks to someone about the Easter baskets and Christmas stockings, she finds herself with a new volunteer or someone who strikes out on their own cause.

“It makes me so happy because other people are starting to do this,” she said of her volunteer work.

“Everybody can do something. That’s what it’s all about. Nobody is too poor or too busy to do this.”

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com