The Buffalo shooting shuttered Tops and left a food desert. Locals are stepping in.

Pastor Andre Kamoche, left, and Greg Jackson, with Rehoboth House of Prayer, help unload a truck of fresh produce to be given out to people affected by the Tops closure on Tuesday in Buffalo, N.Y. (Joshua Bessex/AP)

Joshua Bessex / Joshua Bessex

The Tops supermarket on the Buffalo’s East Side was a store Black residents pushed for years to get. It serviced an area that would otherwise be a food desert.

Those without access to a car particularly relied on this location to walk to. With the store closed for the foreseeable future as investigators process the crime scene, the food desert has returned and Trice Smith is one of the longtime customers seeking other options.

“We don’t have much over here. You know, we don’t have markets on every corner. You know what I’m saying? We have people that don’t have cars,” Smith told NPR.

Organizations from outside the community, including World Central Kitchen, have come down to hand out food, personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies and other things.

But a huge level of support is coming from local organizations and churches that are meeting the challenge of feeding their neighbors. This is at the same time they are processing their own grief. Many who spoke to NPR noted that once these outside organizations leave, it’s the local groups that will continue to meet the need.

Beyond the yellow caution tape on Jefferson Avenue, tables and tents have been set up where groups have unloaded trucks, vans, and cars to distribute mounds of food to anyone who comes by.

This site is directly across the street from the scene at the Tops supermarket. In between memorials for the 10 victims of Saturday’s attack, members of local organizations have gathered nearly every day since to hand out clothes and food, or to take a moment to talk to their neighbors.

“There’s still a lot of residents that still have to be fed,” George Johnson, the president of Buffalo United Front, told NPR. “With the market being closed, they can’t get their groceries so we tried to provide different things for them.”

Right next to his group’s table, members of the Buffalo Peacemakers manned a grill throughout the week cooking up hot dogs and hamburgers for the crowds.

Elsewhere in the city, mobile food pantries and free community fridges are meeting a new need from customers who relied on Tops. These groups that run those fridges have existed in this neighborhood for a long time.

The East Ferry Street location of the Buffalo Community Fridge was bustling early Tuesday morning. As early as 8:30 a.m., people from in and outside the East Side pulled up to drop off diapers, fresh milk and produce.

The tragedy has brought out a flood of new donations, volunteers told NPR.

Emily Isenhart stopped by for the first time on Tuesday. She donated fresh fruit and vegetables, diapers, tampons, and sanitary pads.

“It definitely won’t be my last time. I’m just kind of heartbroken. Like, this is my community, and no one should ever have to go through what they’re going through right now,” she said.

Many of the local organizations are intentionally keeping donation distribution outdoors, for now.

A lot of people are scared to go inside of a store right now, said Keri Socker, chief of staff of Resource Council of WNY.

“So we’re out in the open. We’re pretty much a mobile Tops at this moment,” she said. “So we’re just trying to provide them at least the basics of what they would have gotten when they went to the grocery store.”

On Monday, she said the group gave out food to more than 650 people in eight hours.

“The influx of donations has been huge,” she said.

It’s been a constant non-stop operation. At the same time, Socker who is a lifelong resident, has to try to process what happened.

“But I’m trying to keep myself together too, right?”

With the contributions of major corporations and the work of local, grassroots organizations Socker said: “I think we’ll be okay. Because I know this community. We’re a strong community.”

NPR’s Adrian Florido contributed to this story.

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