ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — During a critical time in the battle against gun violence, the ‘Groceries Not Guns’ program is returning to the Star City for the second year in a row.

This campaign allows people in Roanoke to turn in their guns in exchange for grocery money.

During a news conference about the event on Thursday, May 26, Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke branch of the NAACP, announced that doing something is better than nothing.

She says she knows change won’t happen overnight, but she thinks this campaign is a step in the right direction.

Nineteen children being assassinated… This is why we’re doing what we do. We’re trying to save lives,” Hale said.

Hale and other organizers of the campaign issued an urgent plea for community members to take part in this year’s ‘Groceries Not Guns’ event, which is scheduled for June 25 in northwest Roanoke, where the majority of this year’s shootings have taken place.

“We do not need to be gunned up against our neighbors. We can come together, in feast and in celebration with food, and that is the message of ‘Groceries not Guns,'” said Catherine Koebel Stromberg, chairwoman of the gun buyback program.

If you turn in a semi-automatic handgun, you’ll get a $250 gift card, but shotguns, rifles, and revolvers are will earn you a $150 gift card.

According to community leaders, having fewer guns in Roanoke will help lower the rates of shootings and homicides.

“The problem is real, and we’re not gonna stop,” said Hale.

With more than two dozen aggravated assaults and homicides involving gunfire reported in Roanoke since the beginning of the year — not to mention the recent mass shootings across the country — Mayor Sherman Lea says he is fed up with all of the gun violence and he wants lawmakers to do something now.

“We can’t even get 10 Republicans to come across the aisle and do something,” Lea said. “Not take guns away, that’s been dismissed, but at least talk about record checks.”

According to Lea, lawmakers should make sure a person is mature enough to carry a gun.

“We have states that are outlawing drinking prior to 21, but you can go get a gun at 18,” the Roanoke mayor said.

Meanwhile, Hale says all the violence should be fuel for leaders and community members to keep fighting because the mission is not complete.

“We can’t sit idly by. We must do something,” Hale urged during Thursday’s briefing. “We must continue to register people to vote. We must continue to be in the streets.”

During the previous ‘Groceries Not Guns’ event in August 2021, Roanoke law enforcement collected 91 guns — which were then slated for destruction — and distributed more than $1,400 worth of gift cards to the people who turned in those guns.

Meanwhile, the city’s Gun Violence Prevention Commission is also providing free gun locks for families of Roanoke City Public Schools students. If you would like one of these gun locks, contact your child’s school as soon as possible and that lock will be available after Wednesday, June 1.

Gun locks are also currently available at the Roanoke Police Department at 348 Campbell Avenue.