News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
DATE:
 August 26, 2022
CONTACT: Kathy Sautter
716 635 5577

   
CONTINUES TO OFFER HEALING TO TOPS TEAM MEMBERS & WNY
Williamsville, N.Y. – After the mass shooting that took 10 innocent black lives and injured three others at the Tops Friendly Markets on Jefferson Ave., in Buffalo, NY on May 14, 2002 it seemed as if we were frozen in time. We stood in utter disbelief that such a tragedy occurred here in our City of Good Neighbors. But it was quickly reaffirmed that we ARE truly the city of good neighbors and that hate will not and cannot win in our community. The East Buffalo neighborhood, Buffalo as a City, and especially the team members at Tops store 250 rose up stronger and more resilient then ever and Tops has many community partners to thank for that.

Immediately following the tragedy Tops team members sprang into action ensuring that the community as well as Tops team members had the resources necessary to begin to process what had transpired. They recognized this was going to be a long journey of healing, one that each individual would process in their own space and at their own time, and Tops wanted to ensure they had the right partners in healing at the ready to guide them.

Tops turned to The American Red Cross, BestSelf Behavioral Health, Community Health Center of Buffalo, Frank E. Merriweather Library, Lucid Pathways, and SPCA Serving Erie County Paws for Love program, as well as so many others, to assist.

“Without these remarkable organizations our associates and the community would not be where they are in their recovery and we can’t thank them enough for jumping in at a moment’s notice to tackle the unimaginable,” said vice president, human resources for Tops, Kris Wydro. “We are beyond grateful for the remarkable work they have done and continue to do. The transformations we have seen first-hand with our team members would not have been possible without their guidance.” American Red Cross of Western New York – If you visited the memorial area you would see them. Red Cross volunteers in brightly colored vests reaching out to those in the community asking them how they were doing today, engaging in conversations of healing or simple conversations about their day. In speaking to the regional chief executive officer of American Red Cross of Western New York, Nick Bond, chapters from across the United States responded to assist in this tragedy. And not just 10 or twenty volunteers. Over 124 from 19 states, from California to Maine, Texas to Minnesota.

“As a proud western New York native, I, like so many others, was extremely sad and outraged about the senseless loss of life, and that our community could be hurt so badly,” said Nick Bond. “One of the things that drew me to the Red Cross was its pure, mission-driven work, and to see it in action reinforced the fact that we are a resilient community that really cares for each other. I was also proud of, and awed by, the response of our national organization. To see people from 18 other states, some from as far away as Texas and California, arrive so rapidly to volunteer their time to assist the Buffalo community in the healing process was remarkable and inspiring. I think I speak for all Red Crossers who were part of the immediate response, and some who to this day continue to serve those impacted, in saying that it was an honor to be there to help bring healing and hope in a time of great need.”

BestSelf Behavioral Health – Since Saturday, May 14th, the BestSelf Black Mental Health Response Team has been providing support to those impacted by the horrific, racist attack at Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo. In partnership with Tops Markets, Erie County, Resource Council of WNY, and other community partners, they have been providing culturally-centered trauma informed services to help our community to begin healing. In addition, their mobile counseling teams continue to be in the community to ensure access to anyone who would like mental health services. These mobile teams are able to provide services in the home or other locations in the community. “The tragedy at the Jefferson Avenue Tops Market will have a lasting effect on the mental health of the black community,” says Kelly Dumas, LCSW, Chief Operating Officer, BestSelf Behavioral Health. “Ongoing support and services are critical to the healing of all those impacted by this trauma. BestSelf is committed to working with Tops and other community partners to find solutions to address these concerns including locating additional behavioral health services in the area.” Community Health Center of Buffalo – If praises could be heard around the world it would be for nurse Trinetta Alston who played a huge part in assisting Tops associates for health related concerns, counseling, and helping team members get in contact with the right agencies in the community that could assist them with housing and other economic needs. Additionally, she scheduled “arts days” engaging associates in yoga, painting, listening to music, and for those interested, massage therapy.

“These activities assisted in helping to cope with the traumatic event, “said Denise Rachow, compliance/human resource manager for Tops. “Trinetta has become a friend and confidant that our associates have continued to seek out for assistance.”

Frank E. Merriweather Library – When Tops needed a safe haven they didn’t have to look any further than the Frank E. Merriweather Library across the street who welcomed the team with open arms, no questions asked. For several months the team met in the Libraries auditorium, quietly, safely, and securely, under the watchful eye of security guard Tony as they continued to heal. “The Library was unbelievable to us,” said Denise. “Joshua Mitch, the Libraries manager, opened the libraries doors for us to gather without question. They supported our associates for two months with their hospitality. It was the perfect place for us to gather, its proximity to the store and community stuck by the tragedy, and close to home for a large number of our associates a number within walking distance. We made new friends as a result.”

Lucid Pathways – Dr. Luchey was with Tops associates from day one counseling and assisting associates with recovery. She, like Trinetta, has become one of the Tops family. From calling associates at home and offering Tops leadership tips on how else they might be able to help, she is noted for having a very calming personality. “We have seen her form close bonds with a number of our associates and she lets us know how to help those who may not have a support system at home,” said Denise.

As Dr. Luchey told a Tops representative, healing is not pretty. It is ugly. It is uncomfortable. Some days will certainly be harder than others. This too, is part of the healing process. The goal is not to get over it.” Her goal is to help survivors acknowledge their trauma, process their emotions and build resiliency to work through it.

“I am in awe of the strength and resilience the Tops associates and people of the community have shown,” said Dr. Keli Luchey. “They are selfless - often putting the feelings of others and the needs of others before themselves. I know that some of them struggled with returning to work, but they did for the sake of the community. Some of them acknowledged that they made a 'pact' to stick together. To lean on each other. They vowed to push through the pain, the trauma and not give in to the unfathomable hate that led to this horrifying day. Those who chose not to return were supported by their colleagues and they continue to check on each other. I look at them now, in awe, admiration and with pride of the progress they have made as individuals and as a 'team'.”

The SPCA Serving Erie County Paws for Love Program which started in 2006 had just six volunteers, but has grown to 200+ teams who visit all over WNY and Tops was grateful they were so responsive to their request when tragedy struck.

This was the first time their teams have participated in providing comfort to people following a tragedy of this magnitude but they acted upon the request swiftly. “Within an hour or so I had responses from 50+ teams that were willing to go where they were needed. They knew that that their dogs would be able to provide, even for a few minutes, a sense of calming and peace to those that were traumatized by the event,” said Debbie Braun, coordinator of the SPCA Serving Erie County Paws for Love therapy animal visitation program.

“Spending time with the Tops Jefferson employees is a foundational volunteer experience - and a privilege - I won’t forget. Being present and sincerely welcomed by these brave and humble people was healing for me. Seeing my dog, Scarlet, instinctively know whom to approach was extraordinary. One young man said, “She must feel my pain.” These interactions are the core of Paws for Love. Thank you Tops Markets for inviting us into this circle of healing.” - Linda Soltis & Scarlet the basset hound

“I’ve lived in Buffalo for 27 years (the longest I’ve lived anywhere) and when I saw the request for therapy dogs to visit the Tops employees, I felt like I needed to go. Buffalo is our city, and these are our neighbors, and I wanted to do what I could to be of service and comfort to them. It meant a lot to me to be able to give someone (or rather my dog giving someone), even just a few moments of joy, comfort, and compassion.” - Laura Snyder

About Tops Friendly Markets Based in Williamsville, NY, Tops Markets currently operates 150 grocery stores in New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, including five that are run by franchisees. As the largest private, for-profit employer in Western New York, with over 14,000 associates, the company is dedicated to providing sustainably sourced, high-quality products, while helping its communities flourish via support for programs that eradicate hunger and disease, educate youth and reduce environmental waste and energy consumption. For more information, visit www.topsmarkets.com.

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