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What's next for the Jefferson Avenue community after Tops reopens?

Posted at 10:01 PM, Jul 14, 2022

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — On Friday Tops will reopen to the public for the first time since the mass shooting there two months ago, but what does that mean for the surrounding community?

As far as the free food donations, those will still be given out across the street from Tops. The NFTA also told 7 News free shuttles will also run until the end of July.

Lenny Lane, President of Buffalo F.A.T.H.E.R.S., said his organization and Buffalo Peacemakers will continue to be a presence in the community. Lane said volunteers will even look to help residents shop, that could mean shopping with people who are emotionally scarred from the horrifying tragedy on May 14.

"We might have to go with them and hold their hand while they move throughout the store," said Lane. "We've been here since May 14, and we're still going strong."

The strength of this resilient community has been seen all around Tops, and even heard. On the sidewalk across the street from Tops you may hear Mattie Oritz yelling "fresh vegetables!" Ortiz hands out fresh produce, with other volunteers, in the empty gravel lot across from Tops.

Ortiz has been volunteering in her community since the tragedy, and is excited for the Tops to reopen. However she told 7 News' Michael Schwartz that she would love to see even more stores.

"You need more discount stores," said Ortiz. "Reasonable prices so people can afford it in our community."

Ortiz said she would love to see more corner stores where residents can pick up loafs of bread conveniently, along with fixed sidewalks and flowers to beautify the area.

"I do believe in turning pain into purpose," said Lane's daughter Lecandice Durham. "I do believe this is just the start, and I believe in the future this area could really be booming, I could really see that, as long as we all unite and come together."

"This is just the beginning," said Pastor Michael Badger, who toured Tops on Thursday with his wife, Pastor Joyce Badger.

Badger said the remodeled Tops is a symbol of the development that the community needs. Many people have told 7 News it's sad that the May 14 tragedy brought attention to how undeserved the Jefferson Avenue community really is

"We need to see mixed income housing in this community," said Badger. "We have to change the demographics. We need to keep the people that are here, but we got a lot of vacant lots."

The Jefferson Avenue community used to have more than one grocery store decades ago, and Badger said the way to build it back up is to invest in it.

"I'm encouraging builders to start looking over in this area, we are right in the medical corridor where you have 17,000 employees," said Badger. "Wouldn’t it be great to see all these vacant lots filled with new houses, new families that will support not only Tops, but drugstores, cleaners, all the things you need to make up thriving community."