The Buffalo Bills have gotten into the Thanksgiving spirit.
More than half of the roster helped hand out meals for 600 families last week at the Food Bank of Western New York. Owner Kim Pegula and several dozen team employees also participated in the annual Thanksgiving Blitz.
“This is really a very true showing of heart and compassion for people who are having a tough time in their lives,” said Tara Ellis, president and CEO of the Food Bank of WNY. “The Bills organization provides funding for the event as well as allowing the players to come out and have face-to-face opportunities with all of these families. In addition, the players are contributing out of their own paychecks.”
A number of players offered a second helping of Thanksgiving dinners for children this week.
Micah Hyde’s IMagINe Youth Foundation hosted groups from four different community centers in the New Era Field press box on Tuesday night.
At the same time, Lorenzo Alexander, Preston Brown, Patrick DiMarco and Adam Redmond served dinner to more than 100 children at the Northwest Buffalo Community Center.
Earlier in the day, John Miller and his father delivered 25 Thanksgiving meals from Wegmans to The Belle Center on the West Side.
“He just became my favorite player,” said Lucy Candelario, executive director for the Belle Center. “I learned that he thought about this all on his own, which meant even more to me. I went to go shake his hand and he gave me a bear hug. It felt like family.”
Miller also spoke to a group of children playing soccer at the center.
“They were mesmerized like deer in headlights listening to him tell his story,” Candelario said.
Bills players have participated in the Thanksgiving tradition at the Northwest Buffalo Community Center for 16 years, said Frank Cunningham, director of youth services.
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“These kids see them on television but to talk to them in person and interact with them is a fantastic event,” Cunningham said.
After serving the food, players sat down to visit with the children, signed autographs, and watched a performance from the center’s Royal Rockettes Majorette And Dance Team.
DiMarco said he enjoyed the visit as much as the children.
“Reaching out and helping kids is one of my passions,” he said. “We have this great platform and ability to do what we love to do and the kids look up to us. So when they see us giving to them, hopefully they can kind of continue that and give to their family and their friends.”
Back at New Era Field, another 100 kids from Valley Community Association, Matt Urban Center, The Belle Center and The Boys & Girls Club ate from a buffet before turning the press box into a playhouse for over an hour.
Children played miniature golf, posed for caricature drawings and had balloon hats made while listening to music from DJ Milk and DJ Yes.
“This is the best field trip I’ve ever been on,” 12-year-old Andrew Londo said.
Providing a fun night for the children was as important as giving them a meal, Hyde said.
“We just wanted to have them here to have a good time and get their minds off whatever their normal days are,” Hyde said. “I’m very thankful for the position that I’m in and to be able to give back.”
Teammates Kyle Williams, Joe Webb, Jordan Matthews and Colt Anderson helped to serve the meals, along with coach Sean McDermott’s wife, Jamie, and Matthews fiancé, professional soccer player Cheyna Williams. Hyde’s fiancé, Amanda Kamiksisian, runs the IMagINe Youth Foundation and organized the event with help from the Bills community relations department and the United Way of Buffalo.
“One kid forgot to get turkey because he was so in awe of the players giving out the food,” said Laurie Overdorf, director of development and youth services for Valley Community Association. “I haven’t seen some of these kids smile like this in a very long time, if ever.”
Just being at the stadium was a treat for the children, said Danyel Sease, program manager for the 21st Century After School Program at Matt Urban Center.
“A lot of them will never get a chance to come here,” Sease said. “Giving them a chance to do something out of their neighborhood is a great opportunity.”
For many of the children, this will be their only Thanksgiving dinner.
“This was such a good thing because this year we were unable to have Thanksgiving at our centers due to the the city doing reconstruction,” Sease said. “So them having this Thanksgiving here with Mr. Hyde was a pleasure.”
At the Food Bank of WNY, children and adults lined up in cars for hours to not only pick up a meal but also meet the players.
“It’s so cool to see all of their faces,” said Stephen Hauschka’s wife, Lindsey, who helped pack the meals with more than 15 players’ family members and team employees. “They see them on the field as athletes and celebrities but at the end of the day we are all just people and it’s cool to be involved in the community.”
“That’s what it’s all about,” Jordan Mills said. “It’s about love and giving back.”
Story topics: Bills fandom/ buffalo bills/ Colt Anderson/ Joe Webb/ John Miller/ Jordan Matthews/ Jordan Mills/ Kim Pegula/ Kyle Williams/ Micah Hyde/ Patrick DiMarco/ Preston Brown/ Stephen Hauschka/ Thanksgiving dinner