Sunday, February 28, 2021

Community fridge comes to Herkimer Street

 By Liberty Darr

The community fridge movement is one that is sweeping the nation and has now made its way to the West Side.

Buffalo received its first community fridge at 257 East Ferry St.  over a year ago that has since grown into more than just a fridge, but rather a community necessity. This was a great way to encourage the City of Good Neighbors mentality that has now grown into the West Side with the opening of a community fridge at 167 Herkimer St., known as Big Herk Fridge.

Big Herk Fridge
      This movement encourages community activism while also aiding in food scarcity around the globe. The main goal of the fridge is to help those facing nutritional insecurity by providing easy and 24/7 access to free, fresh, and nutritious food. The fridge is accessible to take what you need, but also leave what you don’t. This way of community involvement goes far beyond just donating monetary funds to already existing food agencies. This citizen-led initiative is shown to result in a more engaged and caring city.

Buffalo joins nearly 200 other fridges across the United States, and more around the globe, according to Freedge, a network of resources and information for community fridge owners around the globe.

Lourdes Vera, owner of the Big Herk Fridge, first heard about community fridges while living in Brooklyn from an organization called In Our Hearts that was taking the community fridge movement to a whole new level.

Upon moving back to the West Side during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vera knew that her community would benefit from a community fridge.

“I had an old refrigerator, and I asked my landlord if I could put it up. Luckily, my porch had an outlet right outside, so it was pretty easy,” Vera said. “I have always been really into food justice. I just love the mutual aid aspect of the community fridge. Once I put the fridge up, I was so surprised that I immediately had volunteers.”

While a lot of volunteers made their way from the East Side fridge, there were many who had utilized Instagram  to find the fridge.

 “We live in a society that is so alienated, especially with the pandemic,” Vera said. “There are so many people who speak so many different languages, and the community fridge helps people to cross those barriers and meet neighbors in a safe way.”

While volunteers do a multitude of things like helping to clear out the fridge and organizing what is inside, volunteers also are those that drop off the food and make donations. Volunteer Emilia Fanelli was able to shed some light on what volunteering looks like for her.

“While I have volunteered for different organizations in the past, the community fridge is one that is easy and makes a world of difference,” Fanelli said. “Every time I go to the grocery store to shop for the week, I buy one or two things to donate to the fridge. It’s really that simple.”





Saturday, February 27, 2021

Crime up for debate in Elmwood Village

Buffalo OpenData Portal chart

  By Rhiannon Browning 

            Questions have arisen in the Elmwood Village as to whether crime has increased over the past year. One thing for certain is that the residents are voicing their strong disagreements among each other through social media.

            A private Facebook group called The Residents of the Elmwood Village has around 1,200 members, all who live within the village limits. Among those members are people who believe that recent carjackings, armed robberies and break-ins around Elmwood Avenue mean that crime is on the rise.

            Longtime resident of Cleveburn Place Avenue and a member of the Elmwood Facebook group Joe Todaro said he wants to hear more updates on the recent criminal activity in the area.

            “While I don’t feel unsafe, this is the least safe I’ve felt,” Todaro said.

            Others are aware of these recent offenses, but rather than an uptick in crime, they think this is common every year and more people are just noticing it now.

           “In my opinion, there’s an unreasonable climate of fear,” said Courtney Friedline, a resident of Lancaster Avenue and Facebook group member.     

            Both the B-District and D-District of the Buffalo Police Department, which both cover areas of the Elmwood Village, held monthly meetings the past two months that addressed residents’ concerns on crime in the area.

            During the D-District monthly meeting on Feb. 3, Chief Joe Fahey provided statistics dating back from 2015 that showed crime hasn’t increased since that year. Buffalo’s D-District consists of the Black Rock neighborhood, Elmwood Village and North Buffalo.

            Much like the D-District, the B-District held a meeting on Feb. 15 that came to the same conclusion. This district includes areas of Allentown, downtown and Elmwood Village. District Chief Dawn Kent assured Elmwood  Village residents who attended that she is given daily reports that show trends through months and years. In these data reports, she found that crime has actually decreased steadily over time.

            Although the data show crime is not necessarily on the rise in the Elmwood Village, some locals still fear walking about the streets more than they used to.

            On Elmwood Avenue, Rustbelt Barbering and Salon Co. had two break-ins over the span of two weeks. Both the owner and his wife received donations from supporters all over Buffalo.

Broken door at Rustbelt Barbering

            Michelle Wilczewski lives around the corner from a recent stabbing that happened on the corner of West Ferry Street and Elmwood Avenue in the middle of the day. The authorities said it appeared to be a random act of violence.

            “I have never felt unsafe here until recently,” Wilczewski said. “I have to walk at least a block from my car to my apartment. My head is constantly on a swivel. If I see someone on the same side of the street as me, I cross over.”

            Lately, more police have been patrolling the area on foot after numerous complaints from residents. Wilczewski says that she expected more officers and longer shifts.

            Ceclia Johnson, a resident of the Elmwood Village who has attended multiple city council meetings, feels that a decrease in poverty is a better strategy in decreasing the recent upheaval in crime, rather than a greater police presence.

            “You don’t reduce crime with more police. You reduce crime by reducing poverty,” she said. “We’re going on a year of this pandemic and people are hurting. We have had little to no help from our government, which has just made already unequal conditions even worse.”

            Like Johnson, Friedline believes there is no proof for a decrease in crime from an increase in police. She encourages anyone in the Elmwood area to turn to the Partnership for the Public Good’s website. The partnership is a community-based operation that provides local research and data on topics like poverty, racism and issues on local policing in the area.

            “Our city is the third poorest of its size in the country. We do not have the resources we need,” Friedline said.



W.S. Community Services endures in pandemic

 By Hannah Turnbull

            Employees of the West Side Community Services Center were in disbelief when the center closed its doors in March. As COVID-19 cases rose, many organizations and businesses were forced to shut down. Despite change and adversity, the center has continued to serve the community in the midst of a pandemic.

        “At the start of COVID we thought community centers would stay open. We were shocked when we closed down alongside Buffalo Public Schools,” Halimah McBryde said.

            McBryde is a program aide at the center, mainly working with school-age children and teens. 

            For nearly 50 years the center has operated on the West Side offering a variety of programs to residents. The center, 161 Vermont St., aims to support and connect with people of all ages in the community. The center offers education, arts, wellness, and prevention programs to children, teens, adults, senior citizens, and families.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the center was bustling with people and daily activities. The center runs a youth program for ages 5-13 and a teen program for ages 14-21. A senior program is available to adults 65 and older. Each program is organized and implemented based on needs and age.

            When the center physically closed in March, adjustments had to be made to keep these programs available. The staff continued to provide mentorship and tutoring through virtual platforms like Zoom and FaceTime.

            Home visits, social distance style, were provided to members of the community in need of extra services. For the senior program, daily phone calls are made to each member.

            Rene Bonilla, a Say Yes teacher at the center, provided insight on the members of the center.

            “A lot of our youth and teens are English learners so there’s a language barrier there. That barrier became more complicated when we switched to virtual assistance,” Bonilla said. “There’s a technology gap. Many families do not have internet access at home so it was difficult to reach those kids and teens.”

            One of the most important services the center offers is providing a daily hot meal to children and teens. The challenges derived from the pandemic made this hot meal even more crucial to families. The staff was able to find a way to deliver a meal to each child every day at dinner time.

            “It’s tough on the kids and the seniors especially. Our services weren’t meant to be virtual, especially when internet and computers are a luxury,” Ian Morrision, a program aide, said. “Parents have always relied on us for childcare. There’s definitely added stress on them to connect with us virtually.”

            The center was able to reopen in June, adhering to all social distancing guidelines. It has remained open since and plans to keep moving forward with the programs and services.

            In the future, the center hopes to partner with a food pantry to provide three hot meals a day to children instead of just one.

            The center has provided resources to become a member, become a volunteer, and make donations on its website.