When Chris Buder, an EMT with the FDNY, greets someone, he's hoping for a smile. That's really it.
"They could be in their worst time, the worst element," he said. "But putting a smile on somebody's face could change their world around."
So twice a year around the holidays, Buder makes home cooked meals and packs them up, along with a wrapped gift.
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He then drives around, looking for people who could use a little something extra.
"I've always had a heart for people," he said. "But I think the pandemic made me really realize how thankful we should be."
In the early days of the pandemic, Buder spent months away from his family because of COVID-19.
He worked long shifts providing medical care in Queens, one of the hardest hit areas in the city.
"50-75% of the people in my station had COVID, and we were depleted by so much," he said. "And the fact that I was healthy the whole entire time made me realize there must be a reason why I'm still healthy to this day and not sick, so I can stand up and help do more than what I can possibly do."
He says buying a cup of coffee for a stranger turned into buying a meal, which turned into making many meals for those in need.
It's now his own little tradition.
"Hopefully this can teach people to learn to be more careful with one another," he said.
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Buder's colleagues aren't surprised by his acts of warmth and generosity. They say that thanks to him, many of them made it through the toughest days of the pandemic.
"People like Chris come along and they talk you off the ledge," FDNY Lieutenant Erin Doyle said. "They show you what it's all about. They remind you why you're here. And without people like Chris, a lot of us would have retired or quit. He keeps us going."
For Buder, why he puts in this extra effort on his own time, at his own risk, all by himself, it's simple.
"I just like making people happy," he said. "That's more important. Once I see other people happy, then I'm happy. If I don't see them happy then I'm not happy."
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