BUFFALO, N.Y. — The fund set up to help those impacted by the Buffalo mass shooting at the Tops on Jefferson Avenue has released its proposed rules for distributing donations.
The 9-page 'Draft Protocol' for the '5/14 Survivors Fund' was posted Monday afternoon and includes five areas of eligibility: legal heirs of those killed, anyone injured by gunfire, those who suffered physical injuries other than gunfire, anyone who suffered psychological trauma and was at the store, and Tops employees not present at the time of the shooting.
The fund was set up by Tops and the National Compassion Fund days after the tragedy and is being managed by a 28-member local steering committee, which includes Co-Chairs Rev. Mark Blue, President of the Buffalo NAACP, and Paul Vukelic Chair of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. Their goal?
"I mean overall is to make sure that the money that has been donated... gets to the 4 to 5 groups and the committee will decide to what degree have they been impacted," Vukelic said.
Vukelic added that the money set to be distributed starting October 24, 2022, will be considered a gift to the survivors. The fund will remain open until September 20 during which time corporate and other donations will be accepted, therefore how much each survivor receives won't be known for a couple of months.
Fragrance Harris Stanfield, a front-end customer service lead at the Tops on Jefferson, who was working the day of the shooting told 2 On Your Side Monday night that she doesn't envy having to tell someone they won't be eligible.
"The main thing is just making sure it goes to who it's supposed to," Harris Stanfield said.
"I think if it was easier to define who a survivor is it wouldn't take so long."
For those in need of disbursement before October, Vukelic said that survivors can request the release of funds up to $25,000 for those most seriously impacted, early. For those less impacted that limit will be $10,000 he added.
As of midnight Tuesday, the 5/14 Survivors Fund had raised just over $2.9 million.
The level of benefit received based on the 'Draft Protocol' will be weighted with legal heirs of those killed in the tragedy receiving "the highest level of payment." The protocol also defines being "present" as someone who was "physically inside or in the parking lots of the Tops as indicated by the Figure below."
A deadline for treatment one week after the shooting must also be met for the physical injury category and employment at the Tops must be dated on or before May 14.
Following a public comment lasting until July 20 and a Town Hall Meeting at City Honors on July 21 at 6:00 p.m., the steering committee will release its 'Final Protocol' which "will govern distribution of the Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund." Comments can be shared at Buffalo@NationalCompassion.org.
Produce manager Rose Wysocki is another survivor who found cover in a conference room on May 14 along with several other co-workers. She was one day away from going on vacation.
"I still hear gunshots. I still see a young lady's face, a customer that was there that day...it seems like yesterday," Wysocki said.
While financial assistance from the fund will provide time to grieve, Harris Stanfield and Wysocki agreed it could never equal the loss of ten lives.
"We had a number of community organizers who were among the 10. We had a wonderful security guard who made a significant difference just in his life being in this community and working for the city of buffalo, money is not going to replace that," said Harris Stanfield.
"I think we just want it over with at this point but it will never be over with for us every time we go into the store we're going to think about that... it's always going to be on our minds and those people are always going to be in our hearts," Wysocki said.
Applications will be available online starting around August 16 and must be submitted along with required documentation by September 14, 2022. "If the victim is under the age of 18 or is a vulnerable adult, a parent or guardian must apply on the victim’s behalf."
Vukelic said fund administrators will have sole discretion to grant a deadline extension if needed and added that applicants who lack access to the internet are invited to call a toll‐free applicant assistance number at 855‐4VICTIM (855‐484‐2846) for guidance on alternative filing assistance.