What members of the Bangladeshi-American community did during the blizzard wasn’t the first time they embraced the nickname “City of Good Neighbors” from their adopted Buffalo hometown.
But it was the first time they had been fined for doing so.
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Some 30 to 40 volunteers evacuated hundreds of people during the blizzard, took them out of dangerous conditions and provided them with warm shelter and food.
But they collided with the travel ban and got caught up in a blitz campaign designed to keep drivers off the streets.
When all was said and done, the Bangladeshi-American Community Rescue Team collected tickets for driving when it was banned.
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“We knew there was a travel ban, but we didn’t care because our people needed help,” said Mohammed Osman Shimul, a member of what he calls the Bangladeshi Group.
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By ‘our people’ he does not mean his compatriots. He means fellow Buffaloes.
Members of the group went door-to-door to check on residents, as well as conducting requested spot checks and home visits. They drove seven vans along main roads for nearly a week, then walked down side streets. The volunteers were based near the Erie County Medical Center, but also helped people on the West Side and Cheektowaga.
“Wherever people needed help, my team was there,” said Shimul.
In total, Shimul said, they transported nearly 500 people from their homes to a network of warming centers the group had set up at various Bangladesh-owned businesses, buildings and homes. The places included Bangladesh Plaza on Bailey Avenue, the Desi Center on Fougeron Street and the Al Aqsa Supermarket on Fillmore Avenue.
“People should help each other. We all have our own duty,” he said.
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Once the electricity and heating were working again, the group began transporting people home – but not empty handed. The rescued went home with hot meals and groceries – even pocket money, Shimul said.
“The volunteers, we put together everything we had to share,” he said. “People couldn’t go to work because of the snow, so they don’t get paid.”
Even now, the group delivers hot meals and offers free take-away from Lovebirds restaurant on Grider Street.
Carlanda Meadors is a peacemaker and spokesperson for the youth engagement group Most Valuable Parents, which works with the Bangladeshi Group to improve relations between the black community and Bangladeshi immigrants.
“They are very understanding and have no problem helping,” she said. “They do what is necessary for our community, and that’s why I love them.”
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Snowed in on himself, Meadors has been handling calls and coordinating help for those in need. While the Bangladeshi Group deployed resources and rescued people who were stranded or out of heat, Meadors matched them with people who needed the help.
“The Bangladeshi community has many restaurants, so they started cooking food and decided to deliver it to everyone for free,” she said. “So they asked us, ‘Who are the people who need food to eat?’ “
Despite the thaw and restored power, the work is not done yet.
Meadors on Thursday linked a group of volunteers from GYC Ministries to clear snow on the East Side with Bangladeshi Group food deliveries.
“While you wait and we scoop you out, you can eat well,” she said. “Everyone thinks everything is back to normal, but not when people still can’t get anywhere.”
Meanwhile, Shimul said he plans to appeal the tickets.
But if it’s the price to pay for doing good deeds, then he’s ok with that.
“We love this community,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the amount the drivers could receive in fines for driving during the ban.