BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Six months have passed since the Tops mass shooting, when 10 lives were stolen from the Buffalo community.
All week, News 4 will be reporting on what’s changed since the tragedy regarding key issues that have impacted Buffalo’s East Side for generations.
After the mass shooting, a harsh reality was recognized: the Tops on Jefferson Avenue was the only grocery store in the area that the community could rely on. But with the Tops being a crime scene, resulting in the store being closed down for weeks, people had to turn elsewhere and rely on numerous organizations that provided food and essential care items. Many people have also chosen not to shop there since the shooting.
What is being done to address food insecurity and change the reality of the East Side being a food desert? We went to look for answers.
Keri Socker is the chief of staff at the Resource Council of Western New York. She showed us around their food pantry.
This food pantry was created after the Tops mass shooting and operates four days a week. It provides items from bread to canned goods and other non-perishables. The Resource Council has been designated as the East Side’s resiliency center, which means the council helps people with counseling and mentoring.
“We’ve gotten some new folks that took them a long time to be able to come outside,” Socker said. “There’s a lot of people that have seen things and witnessed things, it affected them tremendously where their day-to-day lives were totally interrupted.”
To make things easier on families, the Resource Council has expanded emergency home food delivery service to the Jefferson Avenue community for seniors and people with disabilities.
“It’s still not enough. We do try to strengthen the program by partnering with local farms,” said Brandi Haynes, the vice president of Adult Services for the Community Action Organization of WNY.
The resource council is also in the process of starting up a pantry for young children.
“We’re also in the process of starting a kids pantry here, because we’ve noticed a lot of kids knocking on the door hungry,” Socker said.
Since 5/14 and the reopening of Tops, no major retailers have opened on Buffalo’s East Side, but plans are in the works for more urban farms and food co-ops. The concept of open-air markets is something many people have talked about.
“I wish there were more open-air markets for them, I feel that the response that I got from doing the food distribution all summer was that people felt safer in the open-air setting than they did walking in through the doors of a store where they were confined,” Socker said.
Local attorney Kevin Gaughan has been traveling the country trying to bring local food vendors together with entrepreneurs , investors and banks. The goal is to create more food options on the East Side. Gaughan founded the American Food Equity Conference, which was held in Buffalo last month.
“Because the conference was successful in describing their work to these potential investors from around the country, who as you recall were there, they have agreed to come back and to have a meeting, we’re hoping mostly likely early in the new year,” Gaughan said.
The goal is to have a more meaningful discussion about specific projects to help address food insecurity. Gaughan said Bank of America has agreed to host that meeting.
Also this week, News 4 will take a look at a state plan to invest $50 million into Buffalo’s East Side to help keep people with back taxes, certain utility bills and home repairs.
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.