Buffalo is starting to change in ways that no one could have predicted. That change is coming in the form of healing. And when it comes to healing, I’m talking about the powers of healthy eating.
Healthy eating is something that should be as natural as breathing fresh clean air. Unfortunately, eating healthy foods typically comes at a high price. Just consider how cheap a fast food burger is. Then compare that to a healthy salad. Then, add the word “organic” to that salad, and the price goes up.
In Buffalo, one person is leading a charge to get free, organic, Halal, healthy foods into the hands of community members that are typically deprived of these wholesome nourishments. Her name is Drea d’Nur, and she’s the founder of Feed Buffalo.
“I come from a family of people who took care of other people,” Drea told me, when I asked her how she became so passionate about feeding black and brown communities, and others who don’t have access to healthy foods. “My grandmother would visit people at nursing homes and hospitals. My grandfather would buy books for people who were going to college and couldn’t afford them. He was a mentor to many black men, and a silent investor in projects. My mother helped to revolutionize the lives of people with autism, and volunteered in church. My dad fixed people’s porches for free. They did all of this when no one was looking. Serving people is the right, just, and human thing to do.”
Feed Buffalo is a black woman-led organization that creates access to healthy food in a judgement-free space.
When it comes to serving people, Drea has had a lot of mentors, mostly in her family – it’s what drove her to open Feed Buffalo. “My grandmother had a pantry out of her kitchen, where she helped her neighbors. At one point I found that I could not afford food, and I ended up going to that pantry to grocery shop. I never felt embarrassed. There was a dignity about it. I knew that I wanted to create a pantry like that, where people would feel good about going, while knowing that they could access foods that were not high in sugar and cholesterol. My family is Muslim, so there needed to be Halal foods. Think about the refugee populations in Buffalo – they come from countries where they eat Halal foods and have different diets than what you find in America. We are here for the marginalized communities. Eating foods like candy and soda leads to poor health conditions – we want to educate people about why it’s so important to make better food choices. If there’s one thing that I believe, it’s that everyone should have access to free water and healthy foods.”
As early as 2014, Drea began to dream of her food pantry. And in 2020, when the pandemic hit, she was still not ready, but she realized that the time had finally come.
“I had $800 to start the pantry,” she told me. “I created a menu that was based on families during Ramadan. The response was amazing – the heavens opened, and people began to donate. I soon had a list of over 200 volunteers. I believe that it was the pandemic that created this global awareness that people were struggling, right in their own communities. People also wanted to help because we were different. We didn’t have canned foods, or foods that were expiring. Access to healthy food that could heal people – that was our mission.”
Drea told me that she recently learned about an elderly woman who was living out of a hotel room that had no access to food because she was in quarantine. She said that she packed up enough food to last 8 days, until the woman was done with the quarantine process. There are a lot of people out there who are facing similar problems, she explained. “We’re currently operating mainly as an emergency response center. We’re taking care of families that are quarantining, which keeps us busy.”
Aside from the healthy nature of the food, the pantry also offers up a wholesome vibe. It’s a beautiful setting – a place where people start to feel better the second they walk through the front door. The space even has a piano and a microphone for aspiring artists who don’t have a place to play and record. Drea has been filming and recording the artists for a Feed Buffalo Series. She has also offered up the pantry walls to other artists, including Edreys Wajed who created the Feed Buffalo logo. Muralist Chuck Tingley is represented, with his work depicting the Aya fern (the fern stands for the resilience and endurance of black and brown people).
“We also have a healthy juice bar,” said Drea. “We built it last summer. We featured a different juicer each month, every Sunday. We gave away the natural juices, with support from local farmers. The people that came in for the juices learned how they would make their own, and the benefits of juicing. We are going to be starting it up back in May – we’re always looking for guest juicers.”
Feed Buffalo is a healing center and safe space – to feed, educate and restore WNY residents in need.
I asked Drea if she has any plans to grow her own food, and she told me that she already has an acre of land on the East Side where she has installed a “healing garden,” which will be accessible this summer. She is currently looking to acquire additional land to start growing food.
“Food production is very powerful,” she explained. “To be able to grow your own food, to share resources… the pandemic showed us what’s ahead – we need to reimagine a return to indigenous practices. The earth is bountiful. We are planting the seeds – that’s what I love about Buffalo, the community and the partners that we are making. Like Freedom Gardens (free organic seeds), The Foundry (partnered with Feed Buffalo to build five little free pantries* for people’s front lawns in summer of 2021), Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP), and Produce Peddlers… we’re also starting a Women’s Empowerment Program, and a Women’s Employment Program. And we are happy to partner with Our Mommie Village for our new program that launches this month called, Feed Women. Our Mommie Village is a full service doula, lactation, and postpartum support community designed intentionally to help raise and support Black mothers and mothers of color.”
Drea told me that she has been overwhelmed by the support that she has received for Feed Buffalo. At the same time, she said that the support has been a drop in the bucket, compared to what she actually needs to grow the Pantry, while enhancing the vast and indispensable programming. Ultimately, her goal is to open more food pantries, because people in need deserve to have access to healthy food options, services, education, and mentors.
The world could use a few more Dreas. Buffalo is lucky to have her. Now, let’s help her.
*Drea is looking for five homeowners who would offer to put the little free pantries on their lawns. She is also hoping that someone can donate a refrigerated vehicle, so that they she can keep the food as fresh as possible during transport. And she’s also looking for some ‘real funding’ to take this project to higher levels with additional offerings for those in need.
Pantry – 456 Massachusetts Ave | Buffalo, NY 14213 | (716) 588-0137 | Delivery: Bike couriers
Support today: www.feedbuffalo.org/store
Feed Buffalo is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization – “Donations are tax-deductible and super helpful!”
For further inspiration, Drea has curated a special artistic segment that demonstrates her very diverse (and very humble) talents.