Despite pandemic and polar vortex, Buffalo community finds ways to unite after tragedy

Buffalo Strong endured a polar vortex to unite after a shooting last week. (Buffalo Strong)

People in the Buffalo community are finding ways to connect with and support one another after a shooting at a local health clinic, all while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and record cold temperatures.

"In a time when we’re so isolated, how do we help our community come together and make everyone feel like they’re a part of the healing?" asked Dani Palmer, who lives in Buffalo with her husband and four kids.

Palmer is known for being a "doer" in the Buffalo community. Her background in nonprofits and community outreach has made her a well-known organizer. After the tragic shooting on Tuesday, she said people started reaching out to her, asking if she was using her skills and background to create a resource for people to find support and help others.  

"Everybody wants to help if you give them an easy way to do it, point them in the right direction," Palmer said.

Palmer said she reached out to Buffalo Mayor Teri Lachermeier, who invited her to join a meeting with other community leaders like Buffalo Police Chief Pat Budke, leaders from Allina Health, local mental health services and the faith community. At that meeting, Palmer agreed create a website to provide information and support to people in Buffalo.

"It’s already been an isolating time for everybody. It’s already been an uncertain time and then when you throw this violent event that effected all of us in this community I think the biggest fear is that people feel alone," Palmer said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been difficult to hold community gatherings inside. Record cold temperatures over the weekend meant it was near impossible to gather outside too. Palmer said the lack of a physical space to gather together and show support is a reason mental health resources are featured so prominently on the page.

"We want everyone that comes to realize that even if they weren’t in the building and directly involved it’s normal to feel a little stress and fearful," Palmer said.

The page includes details on upcoming events, fundraisers for individual victims, ways to support Allina health care workers and first responders and links to ways people can show their support.

"Never in a million years did we think we would have to sell masks and now masks for victims," owner of J&J Athletics in Buffalo, Jolene Sorenson, said.

She says she’s been overwhelmed by the number of orders she’s received for "Buffalo Strong" printed t-shirts and facemasks. She says, so far, they’ve sold more than $19,000 worth of merchandise, with all of the proceeds going to support victims and their families.

"We wanted to help as much as we could," Sorenson said.

Palmer says she’s had more than 1,400 people sign up to volunteer. She’s trying to keep up with the thousands of emails she has received from people wanting to help the support efforts. She says she hopes by creating this online space and "Buffalo Strong" campaign, it will give the community support and strength to move forward together.

"Even just putting "Buffalo Strong" up on your Facebook profile or putting a yard sign out helps us know we’re all in it together and I think people are comforted by that," Palmer said.

For more information on Buffalo Strong click here