June 06, 2022

Gillibrand Pushes For Action To Address Food Insecurity In Underserved East Side Neighborhood

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined elected officials and food industry experts to address food insecurity in the region. The recent tragedy that killed 10 innocent New Yorkers at the Tops grocery store further exacerbated longstanding food insecurity in the underserved East Side neighborhood of Buffalo. In fact, nearly 95,000 residents in the Buffalo and Erie County live in neighborhoods designated by the USDA as "food deserts" where healthy food access is limited and food insecurity is high. Gillibrand visited the Resource Council of Western New York to support their efforts and held a press conference with members of the Buffalo community to push for action to combat heightened food insecurity during this difficult time. She was joined by County Legislator Howard Johnson, Catherine Roberts of the Resource Council of WNY, and Catherine Shick of FeedMore WNY.

“Long before the tragic shooting that took the lives of 10 innocent people in Buffalo, the East Side community was already battling the persistent problem of food insecurity, lacking accessible and affordable food,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Today, I’m pushing for robust funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative program and for FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program to help build the infrastructure needed to put an end to hunger in our state. I will keep fighting until every child, every family, every community in Buffalo and across our state has access to the healthy nutritious meals needed to thrive.”

"Buffalo's East Side has historically been considered a food desert for decades before the Jefferson Tops opened for business," said Council President Darius Pridgen. "While the Jefferson Avenue Tops has provided a much needed service to Buffalo's East Side communities, food insecurity has remained a persistent problem.  With Tops being temporary closed, residents who have relieved on this store are now struggling to have their basic needs met. No community should have a single point of failure when it comes to the availability of food and medicine."  

“FeedMore WNY is honored to stand beside Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and our community partners, including Erie County, the Resource Council of WNY and many other dedicated leaders and change-makers who have mobilized to provide immediate care for our neighbors and strategize long-term solutions for a brighter, more equitable tomorrow,” said Tara A. Ellis, president and CEO of FeedMore WNY. “While community members urgently need access to fresh, nutritious food in the wake of this horrific tragedy and the closure of the Tops supermarket, we must also remember that food insecurity has been a longtime problem within the City of Buffalo and throughout Western New York. If we hope to truly solve food insecurity, we must also all join together to address its root causes.” 

More than 45% of people live below the poverty line in Buffalo and Erie County, and more than 12% of Erie County is food insecure,” said Howard Johnson, County Legislator. “The mass shooting that took place on May 14th at Tops on the Eastside has resulted in the store temporarily closing and has shed light that food insecurity does exist in the Black Community.  Food insecurity is a serious threat to the growth and development of our community and more can and should be done.”

“This community has experienced a terrible tragedy, creating a ripple effect causing a lack of access to healthy and nutritious food,” said Catherine Roberts, President and CEO of the Resource Council of Western New York. “I applaud Senator Gillibrand’s dedication to this issue, and I look forward to working with her as we reimagine the East Side.”

This June, Senator Gillibrand is calling on congressional leadership to enact a robust set of child nutrition priorities in any upcoming legislative vehicles. Provisions such as extending school meal waivers, expanding community eligibility, and creating a national Summer EBT program are vital to fighting back against child hunger and food insecurity. As summer recess is already underway in many states, it is vital that Congress extends and expands these programs as low-income families are facing a steep benefits cliff when the child nutrition waivers expire on June 30, 2022.

Senator Gillibrand also led a letter to Senate appropriators calling for full funding of FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP). The EFSP was originally established in 1983 in order to respond to food insecurity and homelessness brought on by crises, and is being utilized today in Buffalo by organizations like FeedMore WNY in order to serve Buffalo community members affected by the Tops grocery store attack. For the full letter, please click here.

In addition to her letter on EFSP, Senator Gillibrand is calling for robust funding for USDA’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a public-private partnership administered by Reinvestment Fund, a national, nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). HFFI was established in the 2014 Farm Bill and reauthorized and expanded in 2018 Farm Bill. At a May 26, 2022 Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry hearing, Senator Gillibrand discussed the HFFI program with Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack. During their exchange, Secretary Vilsack confirmed that the HFFI program is the best program communities can use to combat food deserts. HFFI offers grants and technical assistance to food retail and food system enterprises that seek to improve access to healthy food in underserved areas. Grants are available to assist projects with a variety of aspects of retail or enterprise development, renovation, or expansion. For more information, please click here.