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'Nobody wants to go back in there': VOICE Buffalo leaders call for East Side investments, including a new grocery store

Organizers pushed local and state leaders to allocate money in four areas: dismantling racial disparities, mental health, public safety, and food security.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — When Humble Robinson walked away from an M&T Bank free grocery pop-up Friday afternoon, she carried bright green giveaway bags away from the tent site set up just yards from the Tops on Jefferson Avenue with supplies destined for people who are too traumatized to return to the scene.

"I am collecting food for families who are on the bus and who are literally afraid to go into crowds again,” she said.

Thursday, Tops leaders promised to reopen the location, though East Side advocates gathered 24 hours later to push back.

“Nobody wants to go back in there. You could have people say that the community wants its resources. The building means nothing right now,” Deacon Jerome Wright, of VOICE Buffalo, said.

Michael Roberts says he’s one of the people who find it hard to visit the site.

“I lost a family member in there. It hurts every day,” he said. “I come down here and spend time at this memorial, and they are trying to open the store again to people that don’t even wanna walk in the store. Who wants to do that? This is trauma.”

With millions of dollars in donations and city budget money on the line, community organizers pushed local and state leaders to allocate money for several key areas: dismantling racial disparities, mental health, public safety, and food security.

“The East Side of Buffalo, we know, has been disenfranchised and disinvested on for so long,” Geovaira Hernández with PUSH Buffalo said.

Advocates say the key community investments could balance inequalities in the city.

“How do I use this moment to not only grieve but also to shift power and to change systems?” Jalonda Hill said.

Robinson said her work continues well past the grocery deliveries. A mental health counselor, is offering a free year of service to anyone who needs it because an unwillingness to revisit trauma is “not a surprise. It is absolutely normal.”

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