Published August 8, 2022
On a recent Thursday morning, retired Buffalo City Court Judge David Edmunds stopped by the Jefferson Avenue Tops Friendly Markets on Buffalo’s East Side to get a few items. In addition to his oatmeal raisin cookies, he picked up some nutrition tips courtesy of three UB graduate students posted at the entrance next to the produce section.
“No matter what age you are, it’s critically important to eat three balanced meals throughout the day, and the students emphasized that to me here today,” Edmunds said.
The store reopened July 15 following extensive renovations after a white supremacist targeted the store, located in a predominantly Black neighborhood, shooting and killing 10 people and injuring three others there on May 14.
Since the store’s reopening on July 15, students from the clinical nutrition master’s program in the School of Public Health and Health Professions have been offering free nutrition information and counseling, food samples and store tours. As graduate students, they are soon-to-be dietitians who aim to serve the community’s nutrition needs now and in the future.
They were at Tops on July 17 and 28, and Aug. 5, and have three more dates on the calendar. Each day has focused on a specific theme. For example, heart health was the topic for their first visit, followed by cholesterol and diabetes.
Students will be tabling at the store again from 4-8 p.m. Aug. 8 (oral health); 4-8 p.m. Aug. 16 (general nutrition); and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 26.
The project’s genesis stems from the community’s desire to receive more health and nutrition information. That was something residents and community leaders made clear in speaking with Tops officials while the store was being renovated following the shooting.
“When community leaders reached out to Tops during the reopening planning stages and voiced their desires to offer the community more options — not only from an accessibility to healthier food options standpoint, but an educational one as well — we knew that partnering with UB would be ideal for our customers,” said Tops’ Director of Pharmacy Matt Hamed.
Tops approached Nicole Klem, director of UB’s clinical nutrition MS program, about partnering with the store to provide nutrition education to shoppers. Klem then engaged three students from the program, each of whom was nominated to the Alpha Eta Society, the national honor society for the allied health professions, to serve as coordinators for the project.
“It’s all about giving back and practicing the skills we’ve learned for community nutrition,” said Hannah Strassburg, a student in the program who has been coordinating the project along with fellow students Melissa Camp and Jessica Lewis.
“We’ve been going over the new layout of the store, as well as discussing what to look for in the produce, meat and seafood sections, deli/bakery, frozen foods, canned foods, bread, cereal and grains, dairy, eggs, and spreads, and the snack section,” Strassburg said. “We also have handouts based on the topic of that week and recipe cards pertaining to that topic.”
“If they have questions while they’re shopping, they can bring the item up to us and ask us about it,” Camp added. “We’re just trying to provide people with whatever nutrition resources they want while they’re grocery shopping.”
When she gives shoppers quick tours of the store, Strassburg said she doesn’t limit them to certain sections (what’s called “shopping the perimeter of the store”). Instead, she asks each shopper what foods they like to eat. “It’s about creating a partnership instead of telling them what to eat,” she said. “So many times, especially in the health care profession, it can feel more authoritative.”
They’ve also been handing out food samples, and have a prize wheel shoppers can spin.
“When planning the store reopening, community members listed nutrition as being a priority in the new store experience,” Lewis said. “We want to help make the community members feel comfortable returning to this store.”
Edmunds, the former Buffalo judge, was happy he happened to stop by on a day the students were there. “I learned about the importance of eating a balanced fruit diet, and they told me about options for how I can freeze fruit to make it last longer,” he said.
Of course, being at the site of such a tragic event has been a sobering experience for the students.
“Obviously, it was very emotional coming here for the first time,” Camp said. “I know a lot of the students sat in our cars just to take it all in before we came into the store. The community has been really positive and welcoming, especially Tops employees — they’re really excited to have us here. Tops started this program because the community asked for more nutrition and health resources, so we volunteered to be here to help.”