At the start of December, Bills cornerback Josh Norman had a vision of how he could help people in his new community that were struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Norman and his Starz 24 Foundation partnered with Mayor Byron Brown and the City of Buffalo to start the Buffalo Business Blitz; an initiative aimed to provide funds to Buffalo-area businesses in need of support. Norman started with $25,000 of his own money but he isn't the type of person to write a check and just walk away. For the Bills cornerback, that's when the hard work just got started. He challenged local leaders, organizations, teammates, and Bills Mafia to help them reach their goal of raising one million dollars by the start of February.
In a press conference on Friday at the West Side Bazaar, Norman, alongside Shatorah Donavan, the Chief Diversity Officer for the city of Buffalo, and Carolyn Welch, the executive director of the Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI), announced that the Buffalo Business Blitz initiative raised approximately $500,000 to help over 200 local businesses.
Norman opened the press conference by saying how grateful he was to work with the City of Buffalo and give back to the community.
"Grateful, I truly am grateful," Norman stated. "I thank Elohim, I really do, for having this vision to start this initiative and to helping out this community really. A community you come to not knowing much of anything about it, but when a crisis happens, you want to step up and put your best foot forward and do something about it. And I think that's when change starts, by doing. … I don't think none of this would have ever happened if we wouldn't have brought the city together and bringing the partnership of the Mayor's office, Mayor Brown and Shatorah. And then as we began to combine this thing together, we started seeing the community get involved and get behind it."
Buffalo continues to show why it is referred to as the city of good neighbors with Wegmans, Rich's Products and the Buffalo Bills Social Justice Fund donating close to $300,000 combined. Norman also appreciates the work Bills Mafia has done for their own community and helping raise funds for businesses in their own backyard.
"You can say that this community truly does look out for their neighbors," Norman said. "They truly do have a heart for giving and Bills Mafia is just a big part of that. When you look at how much they donate to charities or funds and they donate like they are to their own backyard, that speaks volumes of their character and who they are."
Three of the business owners that were selected for the grants attended the press conference to meet and thank Norman for the assistance.
Molly Hutton, owner of the Buckminster's Cat Café had opened in the Fall of 2019 and only had a few months of normal operation before the pandemic shut everything down. Her intended business plan was to be part neighborhood café and part cat adoption facilitator with their rescue partner the Second Chance Sheltering Network.
"When COVID hit we had to shut the cafe portion of the business down," Hutton said. "Well, that was that's half of the business really. So, I'm a new business owner, I wasn't versed in how you think on your feet really quickly and make a new business plan. So, it was quite difficult to figure out how it was going to work going forward."
She was able to keep open the cat adoption but had to close the food service due to not having an established customer base at the time. Since then, she has been able to reopen indoor dining but has had to lay off baristas and is doing the work herself. She will be able to use the grant money to pay bills, help with her rent and give to the employees she had to lay off.
Fredrick Daniel is originally from Liberia and has lived in Buffalo for 29 years. He is the owner of Freddy J's BBQ restaurant and it took a big hit when he had to shut down due to the pandemic. He is so appreciative of Josh Norman and the City of Buffalo for helping him out in his time of need. The grant will help him, and his business partner reopen and make needed improvements to the building.
"Hopefully when we do open, we have to renew our liquor license," Daniel said. "We got some improvements needed in the building, we have an enclosed patio right now and we want to do something towards getting that open. And just making sure that the people that was working for us, that we have a payroll for them, going forward."
Gwendalina Ingram owns the Je Ne Sais Quoi soul food restaurant located on Hertel Ave. When she received the phone call Friday morning that she would receive the grant she was so happy she could do a backflip. She opened this business to offer people an upscale soul food experience and didn't know what she was going to do when the pandemic hit. This grant is a saving grace for her and she will be able to give back to the employees that stuck with her in these tough times.
"I'm going to use the money to catch up on my rent," Ingram stated. "And also give my employees a little gift. A token of love for hanging in with me and for coming back. Let's just make this happen and once again thank you great, great Buffalo."
Norman knows that this isn't the end of the road and will continue helping out this community that has grown near to his heart. He hopes that the funds will positively impact the people and businesses in and around Buffalo and can provide a fresh start in 2021.
"I'm just so appreciative to be amongst you all," Norman shared. "I know there's much more to be done in that area, but what has been done is a truly remarkable feat. I'm grateful to be a part of and say that we did something in helping businesses affected by COVID-19 when the closures happened. So, for the businesses that do receive this award and receive funding for their business, I truly hope and pray that it will help you all to exceedingly go forward in 2021 and to have a good start in that area. Because we all need each other to fight what we are all fighting right now."