Buffalo supermarket targeted by mass shooting was an oasis in a ‘food desert’ | Buffalo shooting

Jops Friendly on Jefferson Avenue in East Buffalo was more than just a grocery store. It served as a community center, a meeting place, a source of employment – ​​and a place of wholesome sustenance unavailable in bodega shops in an area described as the oasis in a food desert.

In the three days since Tops became the carefully targeted site of a mass shooting and was closed indefinitely, community groups, local advocates, the West New Emergency Food Network York, corporate donors, churches and even Tops staff rushed to fill the void.

“That was it for us. It was Jefferson’s heart,” said Jeanette Simmons, a former Tops cashier who said she left Tops on Saturday when she heard the first shots. Since then, she had struggled to get by. “It’s been hard to sleep, to eat, to shop – everything. He took everything from us. »

Simmons was lining up at an emergency food distribution center run by the WNY Resource Council and Feedmore WNY on Ferry Street, 10 minutes from Tops – which, although closed, had also set up a food distribution center and council nearby, and offered a bus service to another location.

Simmons said she fears the store will remain closed, in part because of the boosting effect it was having on other local businesses. “They paved the way for us to have things on Jefferson. I liked everything about Tops. Some people cannot afford to go out to get food.

The site is currently an FBI crime scene. Given the death and devastation allegedly caused by suspect Payton Gendron, some regular Tops clientele might not want to return.

“I don’t want to go back there. I knew most of the people who worked there,” Erma Ecford said. “Friday he [Gendron] was in the store. He was right there at the water’s edge when I had my pop. If he had, he would have gotten a lot more people out, because the store was packed.

Law enforcement authorities have not confirmed that Gendron was in the store a day before the shooting, but Ecford’s account is consistent with others in the neighborhood. Shonnell Harris Teague, a manager at Tops, said she saw Gendron sitting on a bench outside the store for several hours wearing the same camouflage gear he allegedly wore during the shooting.

And late Saturday, just hours after the violence, Grady Lewis reported a similar account. “He looked out of place,” Lewis recalled. “He was a bit of a weird kid. He said he was coming to see the countryside. He talked about string theory, critical race theory, shapeshifters, the beginning of civilization.

Erma Ecford: “I knew most of the people who worked there. Photography: Ed Helmore

On Monday, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia confirmed the suspect visited the city in early March. Separately, a Washington Post review of more than 600 pages of messages attributed to Gendron reportedly showed that he resolved in December to kill those he insulted as “replacements,” and decided in February to target the Tops grocery store based on its local African American population. .

Black residents of Buffalo are six times more likely than white neighbors to live in a grocery-free zone, according to a 2018 report of the Public Good Partnership that has linked these “food deserts” to higher rates of disease. Terry King, CEO of Saving Grace Ministries and Chairman of the Board of the Resources Council, said most Tops customers could not drive and “were isolated from what we would normally have had for goods and services”.

“For two decades, before Tops was built 19 years ago, the nearest grocery store was five or six miles away. Without the ability to drive, they depended on food from a local bodega or high-priced store — not the healthiest foods. So they struggled,” King said.

“The tops represented something that was really important for a healthy life.”

In the aftermath of the murders, Ecford and others reported that threats were made against the local community and schools: she kicked her grandson out of South Park Academy after an appeal. “We still have people who want to fight back,” Ecford said. ” That does not make sense. I’m an old person and I’m not going anywhere. I want to go home and be safe.

Sherry Schenck, standing outside the Resource Center food bank with a bag of groceries, said she too was ‘a little shaken’.

“We just ended the protests for Black Lives Matter, and now we have to start all over again,” she said. “This guy literally drove 200 miles out here and went on a rampage, killing black people. I mean, who does this? And now our community must suffer because of him.

Schenck said she was excited about Joe Biden’s impending visit and was considering what she might say, given the opportunity. “I would ask him how he’s going to change America, and especially in a city like this,” she said.

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