Gov. Kathy Hochul speaking with Buffalo Mayor Brown Buffalo NY during a news conference the day after a mass shooting in in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Photo credit: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Buffalo food desert shows generational economic segregation, poverty in neighborhood targeted by white supremacist shooter

Overnight, the predominantly African American district in Buffalo marred by gun violence, must deal with a dearth in hyperlocal food availability.

Doors to the Jefferson Avenue Tops market remain closed. The site where white supremacist, Payton Gendron shot 13 people, resulting in the death of 10 victims, is still an active investigation scene. Consequently, the temporary closure of the only full-scale food store in the East Buffalo neighborhood has exacerbated a community already struggling in a food desert.

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) expressed at a press conference last week that the lack of food was “of concern,” because “the community does not have a lot of options.”

Since “a lot of people walk to the grocery store [because] they don’t have transportation,” Gov. Hochul announced that her office was in contact with Uber and Lyft to provide transportation to residents in the affected zip codes.

A community that is 80 percent Black, the recent unspeakable tragedy adds to a neighborhood already dealing with poverty and economic segregation. About 37 percent of Buffalo is African American. Out of that 85 percent live east of Main Street, a public corridor earmarking the wealth divide. A 2018 Partnership for Public Good report shows that 32.3 percent of the city’s Black population are at or below the poverty line in comparison to whites who are 9.3 percent. Plus, there are 51 “block groups that have limited access to Supermarkets,” with all of them on the east side of the city.

Before the shooting, there was an issue with access to food. A University of Buffalo study details how 56,000 households in the Buffalo-Niagara region found it hard to regularly get food during the COVID-19 crisis because they lived outside of a grocery store that is walking distance, or 0.04 miles.

“A food desert is a crisis that is growing and being ignored by the majority,” Amara Brown, Communication Strategist at Black Farmers Index told Ark Republic. The Black Farmers Index is a digital directory listing Black growers throughout the U.S. “We must learn how to farm or at least work on supporting local farmers to keep our community fed. Volunteer, barter, or support a local farmer who you trust.”

Though Brown offers a firm solution, it might not be all that simple. With the inflation causing a significant spike basic farm necessities, such as fertilizer, local farmers are struggling to stay afloat.

While the disparity bores deep fissures, food centers serve as an important space. Community members said the franchise grocer was comparatively smaller than other Tops, but was a cherished essential business. “This Tops is more than a grocery store, it was an oasis in this food desert and also, if you were to walk into this store you would most likely see someone you knew,” Masten District Common Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo said to Buffalo News. “It was a community center that, if you came in to buy a loaf of bread you would spend 15 minutes because you ran into three or four people you know. It had that barbershop, salon kind of feel.” 

Now that food availability is more challenging in the area of the Buffalo, local groups have stepped up to help out. One of them is Feedmore WNY, a local organization sponsoring a food giveaway. On Twitter, they reported a line to get food was 10 blocks long. A McDonald’s franchise owner in Kentucky sent a food truck to feed 8,000 people. Even World Central Kitchen has donated personal care items along with the city’s Mayor Byron W. Brown who spearheaded an effort to collect toiletries in a recent drive.

While these efforts provide immediate relief, local groups such as Buffalo Peacemakers, Buffalo United Front, and Buffalo Community Fridge are in it for the duration.

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