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Volunteer warms feet, hearts with gesture ; Ex-Bill gives boots to needy young man

It was a small gesture, really, by a large man with a huge heart.

Mike Hamby, a regular volunteer at St. Luke's Mission of Mercy on Walden Avenue, didn't literally take the boots off his feet and give them to a needy young man.

But Hamby did take action last week after hearing about a man who needed size 14 boots to replace a hole-filled pair of sneakers that couldn't cut it in Buffalo's harsh winters.

Hamby, without hesitation or fanfare, went out to his own vehicle to give the man a pair of expensive fur-lined hunting boots.

It's a gesture that St. Luke's volunteers and workers wanted to publicize about Hamby, better known as an accomplished sculptor and former Buffalo Bills defensive lineman from the late 1980s.

"I love Mike Hamby," St. Luke's co-founder and co-director Amy Betros said Monday. "He's a good man with a great heart. That's the type of guy he is. How many people would do that?"

Even without the act of kindness, Betros said Hamby, as both a well-known sculptor and a former professional athlete, provides so much hope to people who are down and out.

"Him just being here gives hope to people, just having somebody who is somebody who cares," she said.

St. Luke's officials believe the boot gift occurred Jan. 10 when Hamby was helping other volunteers distribute clothing and household items to the needy.

"There's a gentleman who comes in twice a week, a big heavyset man who doesn't have a lot, obviously, but a very appreciative man," said Gino Grasso, an associate missionary at St. Luke's.

Several times in recent weeks, that young man had come in to ask for size 14 boots, to replace his beaten-up sneakers for the winter.

The young man asked Grasso again last week, within earshot of Hamby.

"He [Hamby] looked at me and said, 'That's the size I wear. I have a pair of boots in my SUV,' " Grasso recalled.

Hamby went outside, got the boots and gave them to the man, who tried them on. It was a perfect fit.

"They're yours," Hamby said, according to Grasso.

"Mike said this is what it's all about, helping other people," Grasso recalled. "He knew what the kid needed. He didn't hesitate. He didn't bat an eyelash."

Hamby didn't have a long career with the Bills, but he was part of arguably their best draft class ever. He was drafted out of Utah State, in the sixth round of the 1985 draft that also brought Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Frank Reich to the team.

He's also made his mark as a sculptor.

Five years ago, he donated "Running Thunder," a 5-foot-long bronze buffalo, to the Boys & Girls Club of Buffalo's John F. Beecher Clubhouse on 10th Street. He previously sculpted a life-size eagle for a federal building on Delaware Avenue.

As a volunteer, Hamby never wears his football or sculpting career on his sleeve.

"A lot of the volunteers are in awe of the humility this man has," Grasso said. "He doesn't flaunt who he is."

Betros quoted Scripture in describing Hamby's latest gift, citing the passage in Luke 3:11: "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise."

"That's the beauty of St. Luke's," Betros said. "It gives people the opportunity to give. It gives people the opportunity to receive, and both are blessed. "

Hamby couldn't be reached to comment Monday.

His wife, Deb, hadn't heard about the boots. But when told the story, she had a quick reaction:

"That's my husband."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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