The toughest part of the week for Buffalo Bills tight ends Scott Chandler and Lee Smith doesn’t come on Sunday. Neither does the most rewarding part.
Instead, it’s Tuesday – the day off for NFL players.
That’s when Chandler and Smith – along with teammates Colton Schmidt, Jordan Gay and Garrison Sanborn – make regular visits to both Roswell Park and Women’s and Children’s Hospital, to visit children suffering from pediatric cancer. In doing so, they are ensuring that the P.U.N.T. Foundation (Perserverance, Understanding, Need, Triumph), the charity started by former Bills punter Brian Moorman, will continue to make a positive impact in Western New York.
“The thing that Brian started is pretty special,” Chandler said. “To get to visit those kids and just be able to put a smile on their face is something you can’t really put into words, how that feels.”
Started in 2004 by Moorman – who played for the Bills from 2001-13 – and his wife, Amber, the foundation is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children in Western New York who are battling cancer. It does so by providing assistance through family-centered programs and events designed to enrich lives and create memorable experiences.
For both Chandler – a father of three – and Smith, who has four young children, the weekly visits are both uplifting and heart wrenching.
“There’s a lot of guys in this locker room with kids,” Smith said. “But there’s not one of us in this locker room who has a kid suffering, so anything we can do as players – especially us who are parents and understand how devastating it would be to have our baby laying in a hospital bed – we’re going to do it.
“These families, to say they’re having a hard time is an understatement. Their children are suffering. So whether it’s just going by and giving them a smile, or throwing a fundraiser to raise a little bit of money, we’re going to do whatever we can to keep the foundation going strong.”
When Moorman was with the Bills last season, he’d bring Smith and Sanborn with him on some of his weekly hospital visits. To see that his former teammates have continued the visits has been special for Moorman, who has moved with his family to Florida.
“It’s a great feeling to know that something we’ve been doing for a long time is continuing,” he said. “We know the difference that it makes, and to know that those guys are willing to carry it on, it does mean a lot to me. But’s it’s not about me. I’ve never felt that way.
“I knew if we could get other players involved and get them to see the difference it makes, they would run with it. If you get to know these families and kids, and you see what they’re going through, you quickly realize it makes a huge difference. … To have them jump on board like they have, it does warm my heart. I know it does for a lot of people in Buffalo. To know they’ve got guys on that team with that kind of character, it speaks volumes about them.”
Both Moorman and Chandler credited Smith with spearheading the effort to keep active players involved.
Smith met Gwen Mysiak, the executive director of the foundation, at a charity event earlier in the season put on by Bills center Eric Wood. He volunteered his time and his role has grown from there. Earlier this month, Smith organized a fundraiser for the foundation at the New Era flagship store on Delaware Avenue.
“Gwen and Brian, they text me or email me once or twice a week thanking me, but I try to tell them over and over that it’s just as rewarding for me,” Smith said. “The doctors themselves tell us, ‘Listen, we can give them all the medicine we want, but the smiles you put on their faces is what truly gets them through the day.’
“I’m getting chills talking about it. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been a part of. Outside of my faith life, it’s the one thing I feel most strongly about, is helping those kids out, and making sure they have something to look forward to every week.”
Recently, a current Bills player who wished to remain anonymous made a donation that will allow the foundation to continue its work for the foreseeable future.
Part of that work includes an “Adopt-A-Family” program for Christmas. The foundation received the wish lists of 17 different families this year, and more than 30 donors were able to fulfill them.
“My goal is to be standing here in 10 years, talking about how we’re still going,” Moorman said.
To that end, Smith sees a logical successor in Schmidt – the Bills’ first-year punter.
“Hopefully Colton will be around here a long time,” Smith said. “He’s a young guy, he’s been punting the ball well. It is called the P.U.N.T. Foundation, and those guys play forever.
“As long as me and Scott are Bills, we’ll be there. But guys like us, we don’t play as long. I think Colton’s the guy that could have the most impact.”
Schmidt said he’d welcome following in Moorman’s footsteps both on and off the field.
“It’s an opportunity for me to start a legacy of quality punters – both on and off the field,” Schmidt said. “We’re all so blessed to be in the position that we’re in, so we have a responsibility to help people who may not be as fortunate.”
For more on the P.U.N.T. Foundation, fans can visit brianmoorman.org or follow @PUNTFoundation on Twitter.