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Buffalo residents rally together during deadly snowstorm, months after shooting

Toya Johnson said when she heard a family of five was running out of food, she immediately gathered leftovers from her Christmas dinner and sent it to them.

For the second time this year, Buffalo, New York, is coming together in the wake of a major disaster.

In May, residents rallied together after a gunman shot and killed 10 Black people in a racist attack at Tops Friendly Markets. Now, seven months later, they are lending a helping hand after a historic winter storm trapped people in their homes, left thousands in the dark and claimed the lives of more than 20 people in the city.

For Toya Johnson, 38, who has lived in Buffalo her entire life, helping others has always been an easy decision. So, when a Facebook friend posted that a family of five was stuck in their home without food, she immediately gathered leftovers from a Christmas dinner she had cooked for her own family.

Tommy Roetzer digs out his driveway on West Delavan Street in Buffalo, N.Y., on Monday, Dec. 26, 2022.
Tommy Roetzer digs out his driveway on West Delavan Street in Buffalo, N.Y., on Monday.Derek Gee / AP

"When he said there was a family of five, I cut the whole turkey in half. ... I packed up some food," she said in a phone call Tuesday.

Because the snow was blocking many streets in the city, Johnson said her friend drove as far as he could and then hiked the rest of the way to her house. He collected the food and dropped it off to the family in need.

"If it’s something that’s within my means or within my reach, without a question I’m going to do it," she said.

This was the second time this year Johnson has been willing to come to the aid of a complete stranger. She was in the parking lot of Tops on May 14 loading groceries into her car when an 18-year-old shooter opened fire. Johnson, an entrepreneur and single mother of two daughters, had picked up Instacart orders to get some extra money to cover expenses for her daughter’s prom and high school graduation.

She walked out of the supermarket moments before the shooter pulled up, she said. As gunshots rang out, Johnson said she hopped in her car and drove to safety, but a crushing thought crossed her mind.

“I got this overwhelming feeling like ‘Oh my goodness, there were so many older people in there.’ There were so many older people behind me in line, so I went back,” she said.

But by the time Johnson was able to get back to the supermarket, police had arrived and blocked off the area.

Johnson said her selfless spirit was instilled in her as a child. It's also something she wants to teach her 18 and 8-year-old daughters.

"I have them watching me ... and I want them to see. I don’t care if you don't know the person. I don't care if it’s an absolute stranger," she said. "These are things that my grandmother taught me, and it’s my duty to teach to my kids."

Nancy Klein, a resident of West Seneca, a suburb outside downtown Buffalo, said she is "so proud" of the way Buffalo has repeatedly come together.

Klein runs a food pantry in her neighborhood and packed up food to give to families affected by the snowstorm.

"Sometimes people will reach out directly to me and say, ‘You know, I have this family who could use anything you’ve got.’ So then I kind of put a bag together and leave it out for them," she said.

Joshua Anderson, 37, said he rushed to help his neighbor and helped clear snow after seeing him struggling with his snowblower. As a thank-you, the neighbor made Anderson a Christmas Eve meal despite having no power.

To continue in the spirit of giving, Anderson said he and his neighbor spent part of their Christmas Day helping at a local shelter.

A resident leaves a local corner store in Buffalo, New York, on December 26, 2022, as many major grocery stores remained closed. - Emergency crews in New York were scrambling on December 26, 2022, to rescue marooned residents from what authorities called the "blizzard of the century," a relentless storm that has left at least 25 dead in the state and is causing US Christmas travel chaos.
A resident leaves a corner store in Buffalo, N.Y., on Monday as many major grocery stores remained closed.Joed Viera / AFP - Getty Images

His neighbor "heard on the radio that a local shelter at a church was looking for supplies and stuff. On Christmas Day, when the storm died down, we hiked over there and we took supplies there," he said.

Part of the reason Anderson is so willing to help is because of his eagerness to live up to Buffalo's nickname, "the City of Good Neighbors."

"I feel like we have a reputation to live up to," he explained. "So a part of it is living up to that reputation of being a part of the city of good neighbors. I’m a Buffalonian. I’m part of the community. I feel like I’ve seen people help (each other) throughout the years, and the only thing I can do is try to do the same thing.”