To celebrate the start of Black History Month, the Bills and Sabres announced Better Together, a fundraising initiative that will benefit organizations fighting food insecurity in Black and African American communities.
One of those organizations is the African Heritage Food Co-op.
The co-op was started in 2016 by executive director, Alexander Wright. It was originally a buyer's club that allowed people to purchase a food share for $30/month. Then Wright and his team started mobile markets to bring healthy produce to food deserts not only on Buffalo's East and West sides but those in poverty in South Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Akron and Lackawanna.
Feeding America stated that Erie County had a 12.7% food insecurity rate in 2021. The issue of food inequality is important to Wright because of the negative impacts it has on the community.
"People think it's gun violence, and gun violence isn't what's killing us, what's killing us is what we're eating," Wright said. "We talk about hypertension, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, you name it. These things are what's killing us. So how can we fix that?
"We can fix that by having healthy and good food at a good price within walking distance. People aren't eating poorly, necessarily, because they really want to. They don't have a lot of options. So, people get brought up eating poorly because their parents didn't have a lot and their grandparents didn't have a lot of options. So, it becomes systematic."
Wright and his team are planning to build their new flagship store in the heart of the Fruit Belt district on the east side of Buffalo. The Buffalo Bills Foundation is donating $50,000 to the African Heritage Food Co-op to help make their dream a reality.
Wright, who has been a Bills fan since 1989, is so grateful to the organization for continuing to better the lives of those who have had their voices silenced and problems ignored for so many years.
"To see something that you love so much love you back is a big deal," Wright shared. "It's a big deal for this community. It's a big deal for me personally. … They've just made this really like a partnership to build this thing. So, I'm really excited."
The ultimate goal is to create community-owned grocery stores that not only provide and deliver healthy options but employ people in the community with a living wage. According to the University at Buffalo Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab, in the Buffalo/Niagara Region, nearly 56,000 houses (12% of all households) lack access to a supermarket because they live beyond walking distance for shopping (0.4 miles) and don't have access to a personal vehicle. Having a one-stop shop for produce and any other necessities within walking distance would bring such a positive impact to so many families.
Sustainability is also a key factor for Wright. It's important to him that there is a succession plan in place so this co-op can serve the community for hundreds of years, not just 30 or 40. Two of the biggest reasons why people don't show up for work or are late is because of the lack of transportation and childcare. The co-op is trying to fix that by hiring people that are within walking distance and having a daycare setting on the second floor of the new flagship store.
Wright believes that this vision will positively impact more than 26,000 residents in the City of Buffalo.
"Our motto is anything less than ownership is unacceptable," Wright added. "I think what's different between what we're doing, and a lot of other initiatives is ownership for the community. It's nothing that anyone can take away from us. It's ours. Once we build it, all we have to do is manage it and we really have a million-dollar business in our community that feeds us literally and metaphorically."
The African Heritage Food Co-op is currently located at 132 Edison Ave in Buffalo, and 2616 Highland Ave in Niagara Falls. The location in Buffalo is home to a community garden where they grow a variety of produce and herbs through the co-op's Each One Teach One Urban Gardening program. In addition to the flagship store, there is another garden coming soon to the Niagara Falls area as well.
All members of the community are invited to join Better Together and make an online donation at bettertogetherbuffalo.org. The initiative runs from today, Monday, Jan. 31 through Friday, Feb. 4. Every donor will receive a Better Together pin designed by local Black artist Edreys Wajed. Anyone who donates $35 or more will receive a tote along with the pin.