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'Meeting the challenge head on:' Food drive held in hard-hit East Side

"Filling in the gaps" was the term being used as cars slowly made their way through the parking lot of Mt. Olive Baptist Church on East Delavan Avenue on Buffalo’s East Side Wednesday. 

As they pulled up one by one, their trunks were opened and a box containing perishable and non-perishable foods was put inside. It was part of a food drive orchestrated by FeedMore WNY, the NAACP, and State Senator Tim Kennedy’s office.

Mt. Olive sits in the heart of the 14215 zip code, an area hard hit by both COVID-19 cases and poverty. With many people furloughed from their jobs and awaiting unemployment money, Buffalo Branch NAACP President Mark Blue said the uncertainty of where the next meal will come from causes a lot of stress.

“It’s very crucial,” Blue said. “Because of lack of employment, them getting their benefits, we’re trying to fulfill a need that every family has, and that is food.”

Later this month, FeedMore and the NAACP will have a similar food drive at the Botanical Gardens in Lackawanna.

As cars snaked around the block from East Delavan to Grider causing a minor traffic jam, volunteers including local leaders, were packing boxes into cars as fast as possible.

Senator Tim Kennedy hustled back and forth from the nearly seven foot tall pallets of food boxes to the stream of cars in the parking lot. He marveled at the resiliency showed by Western New Yorkers in the face of a global pandemic.

“When the going gets tough we step up and we’ve done that,” he said. “We’ve met this challenge head on as a community. This is really the best of what Buffalo and Western New York is all about.”

As the host of the food drive and center point of the neighborhoods in the 14215 zip code, Mt. Olive Baptist Church Reverend Dwayne Gillison said that while the food drive is a blessing to many, it puts into focus the stark realities of living here.

“14215 is a food desert,” he said. “And there’s not grocery stores in the area, and so they’re giving away fresh fruits and fresh vegetables and the access to food is amazing, and you see how many people are taking advantage of it.”

Gillison said having a supermarket in the neighborhood one day would “be a blessing for the community.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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