Michael Johnson started Burrito Boyz five years ago after his young son included several pricey items on his Christmas list

By Tiare Dunlap
Updated June 30, 2016 02:35 PM
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Robert Gallagher

Every Sunday at 5 a.m., Michael Johnson wakes up, heads to a pizza kitchen, and leads a group of volunteers in making hundreds of egg, cheese and potato burritos for the homeless.

“It hurts to think that we’ve fed 131,000 people,” Johnson tells PEOPLE. “I wish that number didn t exist, but the fact is there are people on the streets.”

The San Diego, California, dad was inspired to start the project, now called the Burrito Boyz, in 2011 after his 12-year-old son presented a Christmas wish list including an iPhone, MacBook Air and other pricey items.

“My wife, Mehrnaz, and I instead decided to teach him what’s important in life,” the former sports marketer told PEOPLE in 2014.

So the next weekend, the family handmade 54 breakfast burritos in their kitchen at home and handed them out to people living on the streets in San Diego.

“We brought 54 breakfast burritos with us, and it went amazingly quickly and the boys had such a great time that they asked if they could do it again,” Johnson says now.

“It felt like punishment at first when my dad told me the idea,” Alec explained in 2014.

“But to see human beings sleeping on the cold ground outside, it really touched me,” he said. “To realize how much they don’t have, and how much we do. It’s a huge part of my life now.”

So, the group gathered again the following Sunday to do it all over again. What started as a core group of Johnson, his son Alec, and Alec’s friends has grown into a network of more than 600 volunteers who make and distribute hundreds of burritos.

“It teaches the kids that you always have to respect everybody,” says Ron, who has come to enjoy the burritos for five years.

“I feel like homeless people get stereotyped as having a lot of problems, but when you go out there you see they’re just people who have had a hard turn of luck,” adds a young volunteer.

Johnson says he hopes that every weekend will be the group’s last – and that the city’s homeless will get the help they need to get back on their feet. But until that happens, he, his family and an army of volunteers will be waking up at the crack of dawn every Sunday to make sure that the city’s homeless get a warm, nutritious meal.

“Our goal really is to get people off the streets, but until they are we want to provide them with a little nutrition, a little hope and a little dignity,” he says.