BUFFALO, NY — Tops supermarket on Buffalo’s East Side was a store that black residents lobbied for years to get. It served an area that would otherwise be a food desert.
Those without access to a car particularly relied on this place to walk. With the store closed for the foreseeable future while investigators process the crime scene, food desert is back and Trice Smith is one of the long-time customers looking for other options.
“We don’t have a lot around here. You know, we don’t have markets on every corner. You know what I’m saying? We have people who don’t have cars,” Smith told NPR.
Organizations from outside the community, including World Central Kitchen, have come to hand out food, personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies and other things.
But a large level of support is coming from local organizations and churches that are rising to the challenge of feeding their neighbors. This is at the same time that they are processing their own grief. Many of those who spoke to NPR noted that once these outside organizations leave, it will be the local groups that continue to fill the need.
Beyond the yellow caution tape on Jefferson Avenue, tables and tents were set up where groups unloaded trucks, vans and cars to distribute mounds of food to anyone passing by.
This place is directly across the street from the scene at Tops supermarket. Between memorials for the 10 victims of Saturday’s attack, members of local organizations have gathered almost every day since then to hand out clothing, food or to take a moment to talk to their neighbors.
“There are still a lot of residents that still have to be fed,” George Johnson, president of the Buffalo United Front, told NPR. “With the market closed, they can’t get their groceries, so we try to provide them with different things.”
Right next to their group’s table, members of the Buffalo Peacemakers manned a grill all week cooking up hot dogs and hamburgers for the crowd.
Elsewhere in the city, mobile food pantries and free community fridges are filling a new need for customers who have trusted Tops. These groups that run those refrigerators have existed in this neighborhood for a long time.
Buffalo Community Fridge’s East Ferry Street location was abuzz with activity early Tuesday morning. At 8:30 am, people from inside and outside the East Side stopped to drop off diapers, fresh milk and produce.
The tragedy has sparked a flood of new donations, volunteers told NPR.
Emily Isenhart first visited on Tuesday. She donated fresh fruits and vegetables, diapers, tampons, and sanitary napkins.
“It definitely won’t be my last time. I’m a little heartbroken. Like, this is my community, and no one should have to go through what they’re going through right now,” she said.
Many of the local organizations intentionally keep the distribution of donations outdoors, for now.
A lot of people are scared to walk into a store right now, said Keri Socker, chief of staff for the WNY Resource Council.
“So we’re out in the open. We’re pretty much a mobile Tops right now,” he said. “So we’re just trying to give them at least the basics of what they would have gotten when they went to the grocery store.”
On Monday, he said the group delivered food to more than 650 people in eight hours.
“The influx of donations has been huge,” he said.
It has been a constant operation without stopping. At the same time, Socker, a lifelong resident, has to try to process what has happened.
“But I’m also trying to stick together, right?”
With contributions from major corporations and the work of local grassroots organizations, Socker said, “I think we’ll be fine. Because I know this community. We’re a strong community.”
NPR’s Adrian Florido contributed to this story.