The recent mass shooting in Buffalo, New York revealed food insecurity challenges in the community. Mutual aid organizations are helping with recovery efforts by investing in the social and economic fabric of the community.
The shooting in a Tops supermarket, the only supermarket for Eastern Buffalo’s majority Black community, killed ten people and injured three others. “The attacked Buffalo supermarket was the only grocery store for many residents of Buffalo’s East Side,” Catherine Shick, Public Relations Manager for FeedMore West New York (WNY), a food bank and hunger-relief nonprofit, tells Food Tank. “As a region, we need to ensure our community members have more options for healthy and affordable food.”
FeedMore WNY and its community mutual aid partners are working to ensure residents on the East Side of Buffalo affected by the mass shooting continue to receive nutritious food and necessities. Shick says FeedMore is holding emergency food distributions at two locations near the attacked supermarket so that community members can receive a variety of fresh produce, dairy items, shelf-stable foods, and personal care products.
In addition, Shick notes, FeedMore WNY provides food and support through many partner food pantries and community dining sites—nearly a dozen of which are within three-quarters of a mile of the Tops supermarket where the attack took place.
“We are working to ensure the community is aware of these pantries and are encouraging our neighbors to use them as a resource. We also are making sure these hunger-relief partners are stocked and ready to serve more community members,” Shick mentions. FeedMore WNY also operates a mobile Farm Market, which provides fresh produce at low cost in areas where fruits and vegetables are hard to access.
Mutual aid organizations in Buffalo also launched a Community Resource Document for residents to access support services and find donation opportunities.
Over 13 percent of residents in Western New York do not have access to enough nutritious food, according to FeedMore WNY. Food inflation, which has hit a 40-year high, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is causing food, gas, and housing costs to increase.
“In recent years, challenges like the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and inflation have exacerbated food insecurity in Western New York and throughout the nation,” Shick says, “and, while there is no one face of food insecurity, we do know that people of color are disproportionately affected.”
According to research from the Northwestern University Policy Research Center, Black and Hispanic Americans face double the rates of food insecurity at 36 and 32 percent, respectively, versus 18 percent of white Americans.
“Systemic racism and poverty are contributing factors to longstanding food insecurity in the region,” Shick tells Food Tank. “To eradicate food insecurity – in our nation and in the City of Buffalo—we need to address not only the issue of hunger and food access, but all of these root causes to make real, lasting change.”
To support food distribution efforts, some policymakers including New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand, are pushing for stronger food access infrastructure. In 2020, Gillbrand released a statement to strengthen community food access infrastructure in Buffalo. She calls for investments in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative and the full funding of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program, which FeedMore WNY is already utilizing.
Following renovations, the Tops supermarket in East Buffalo is planning to reopen. Since the shooting, about a quarter of employees relocated to stores in other locations, according to Tops President, John Persons. While some Buffalo residents look forward to having access to a supermarket again, others are unable to return due to trauma. As the community heals, mutual aid responses continue to feed East Buffalo’s residents.
“The mutual aid response to assist the community of Buffalo has been imperative for so many reasons,” Shick says. “Not only are people and organizations banding together to ensure our neighbors receive critical support like food assistance and crisis counseling, but it is sending a clear, loud message that together we can overcome hate and improve our community for a brighter tomorrow.”
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Photo courtesy of Joel Muniz, Unsplash