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Buffalo barbershop takes in the tired, hungry and cold

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

More than half the U.S. faced winter weather advisories over the holiday weekend. The worst conditions were in western New York. The city of Buffalo has reported more than two dozen deaths so far. Mayor Byron Brown told NPR some people in Buffalo have been without power since Friday.

BYRON BROWN: This has been a very devastating and difficult storm, unlike anything that even the city of Buffalo is used to getting.

SHAPIRO: Around the city, people have been pitching in to help feed and shelter their neighbors, like Craig Elston, owner of the C&C Cutz barbershop. He posted this video to TikTok on Saturday afternoon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

CRAIG ELSTON: Yo. Please, man, anybody out there that's stuck, do not stay in your car, man. The barbershop here welcomes you. Get some heat, get some electricity, charge your phone, get in contact with your family.

SHAPIRO: Folks in Buffalo took Elston up on that offer. He told me about 30 people took shelter at his barbershop over the weekend.

ELSTON: People were actually sleeping here, a lot of people I've never even met before, a lot of people that was visiting Buffalo and they got stranded in cars, or a lot of people that was without heat and gas. I just wanted them to have somewhere where they could come charge their phone and see if they could get somebody to come help them.

SHAPIRO: Tell me about how the idea came to you that this could actually be a shelter for people.

ELSTON: It really didn't come. Once I seen the first person laid out with family and kids with them in the snow, it broke my heart. And I'm sitting in here with heat and light, and the barbershop is warm. And it's a big space that can heat and shelter other people. So it just naturally, you know, came upon me, like, Craig, open the barbershop up, do a live video on all platforms and let people know that they can come here and get some type of shelter.

SHAPIRO: So you just went on social media and said, I've got a warm place for you to sleep if you need it, and then strangers started showing up?

ELSTON: Yeah. Everybody, everybody started to show up. And, you know, I did my best to try to get to a corner store to get them some food, some drinks. There's a vending machine in here. You know, they did have access to that. And for the people that didn't have any money, I reached in my own pocket and gave them money to get something to eat. I told people where the closest store that was open. Some people went in packs of five and four and went down there to the store and came back to the shop. Some people that live in the apartment building that came and gave food. Some people gave food to me - for me to eat because I was so concerned with helping everybody else that sometimes I didn't even eat myself.

SHAPIRO: So what was Christmas dinner - stuff from the vending machines, Hot Pockets, I hear?

ELSTON: Christmas dinner was Vienna sausages, Hot Pockets, chips, peach tea. That - yeah, that was Christmas dinner.

SHAPIRO: I'm imagining this is not how you planned to spend Christmas.

ELSTON: No, man. I mean, my daughters, man - I got a daughter named Malia Elston (ph) and Madison Elston (ph) that's stranded with their mothers, and I wasn't even able to get some of the things that I got for Christmas to them. So it's kind of heartbreaking in that, you know, I mean, I wasn't able to even see my daughters on Christmas.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. And everybody who was staying at the barbershop was in a variation of the same position. None of them were doing what they planned for Christmas either.

ELSTON: No. People were crying. The barbershop floor, it's so crazy because so many foot - for instance, here on the floor - you know, people was sleeping in corners of the shop, sleeping in the barber chairs. I mean, I put TV on so we could watch movies. We watched the football game together.

SHAPIRO: So there was this kind of camaraderie that formed.

ELSTON: Yeah. And a lot of people was telling me thank you. The first person that knocked on the door, it was, like, 10 o'clock at night. And his fingers was, like, almost purple, and his face was red. And he was telling people that, yo; I would have died if I would have been out there another two minutes. I didn't know it was that serious at that point. I felt bad because I was like, you know, just making a normal joke, like, why are you out here? Like, what you doing, you crazy? But then I seen people were dying, and I was like, oh, yo; this is serious. So then, you know, I felt bad. Like, I was like, yo; I've got to help other people. Like, I'm going to help him. Clearly, I'm not going to leave him out there in the cold.

SHAPIRO: How many people do you still have there?

ELSTON: Oh, at this current moment it's just me.

SHAPIRO: Oh, OK.

ELSTON: I'm just going to stick where I'm at. And, you know, the door's still open for people that want to come.

SHAPIRO: I know this is far from the most important thing right now, but did you give any haircuts?

ELSTON: Actually, I did.

SHAPIRO: You did?

ELSTON: Yeah, I cut maybe five people, man.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

ELSTON: It was unbelievable. They were like - you're cutting them like, seriously?

SHAPIRO: Make a little money while you're at it.

ELSTON: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: If you're going to be buying food for 30 people who are sleeping in your barbershop, you can at least earn some cash through cutting people's hair. You know, you're saying that it's sad you weren't able to see your daughters on Christmas, but I'm guessing this is probably the most memorable Christmas you've had in a very long time.

ELSTON: Yeah. I mean, I'm never going to forget this Christmas because, in front of my eyes, I've seen people that was almost half - like, half to death here. If I can have an opportunity to help somebody, I think that's what we all supposed to do. We supposed to try to assist and help one another as much as we can instead of this crazy stuff that be going on around the city, man.

SHAPIRO: Well, Craig, it's been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for your time today. And thanks for all you've done for the community.

ELSTON: I appreciate it.

SHAPIRO: That was Craig Elston, owner of the C&C Cutz barbershop in Buffalo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Enrique Rivera
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.