Community advocates seeking to develop a farmers market, grocery store and youth jobs incubator on Buffalo’s East Side will share plans to revive the project at an event to commemorate the 10 Buffalo mass shooting victims on Tuesday, the one-month anniversary of the Tops massacre.
The Rev. Michael Chapman of the St. John Fruit Belt Community Development Corp. said the development group has been working with the city, Erie County, the Buffalo School District and an arm of the federal Department of Health and Human Services since the May 14 shooting that killed 10 and wounded three people and closed the area’s only fresh food market.
"To tell the full story, we need to understand what is absent here, but also what's been accumulating elsewhere," said Samina Raja, director of UB's Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab.
Tops has vowed to rebuild and reopen the store by the end of July, but community leaders say one oasis cannot feed an entire desert. East Side residents are calling for more options, competition and investment in food sources and job opportunities for the predominantly Black and low-income community.
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“The community needs someone to step up and do something, and we have the capacity to make this happen,” Chapman said.
Chapman’s Buffalo Black Billion campaign to invest $1 billion in redeveloping East Side properties over the next 10 years has been pursuing a plan to buy and develop four vacant city-owned parcels on High Street for several years, but the project had been stalled until the mass shooting prompted new calls for action, he said.
Chapman said the boards of his two churches, St. John Baptist and Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church, have approved $210,000 for the project to build a two-story building on High Street to house a food market and youth jobs training center on the first floor and affordable apartments above.
Chapman said Buffalo and community leaders will share updates on the project at a special event at noon Tuesday at the empty lots on High Street between Locust and Mulberry Streets. The Rev. Que English of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships is expected to be in Buffalo for the event, said event organizer Christina Abt.
"We have a building, we have the drive, we have the architect, we have the environmental studies, we have the renderings," African Heritage Food Co-op founder Alex Wright told media in front of the Carlton Street building in which he plans to open. "The only thing we don't have is the funding. Help us do something that's in the community, for the community."
Representatives from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County and the Buffalo city schools are also expected to speak to the farmers market and youth jobs training aspects of the plan, she said. Other community groups and supporters of East Side improvements are invited to learn about the project, she said.
“We have connected with other efforts like the African Heritage Food Co-op because we are all working toward the same goal,” Abt said. “Our goal is not to have to talk about a food drought but to have conversations about cultivating food sources for Buffalo’s East Side.”
The gathering will conclude with a procession to the Jefferson Avenue Tops to observe the one-month anniversary of the shootings with 126 seconds of silence, the amount of time it took the shooter to kill 10 people and wound three.