A warm meal is always welcome on a cold, blustery Buffalo winter day.
For about 100 Western New Yorkers who visit the Buffalo City Mission, that meal happened to be served up Wednesday by several members of the Buffalo Bills' coaching staff.
For the second consecutive year, 14 members of the team's coaching staff, along with cornerback Levi Wallace, assisted the mission staff in serving a Valentine's Day community meal.
"Any time you can get out there and you can support your local community, wherever it may be, I think is a really fulfilling thing," offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "As a staff, I know among coaches, the support that we have as an organization from the people around this area is important. This is obviously just a very small gesture of appreciation, but any time you can do that, I think it's important."
Daboll, a St. Francis High School graduate, grew up here, so he knows the sense of community is strong. His counterparts come from all over the country, but he says they feel it, too.
"These coaches here that maybe aren't from Buffalo and they've lived here one and two years, you can see them – they love this place, because the people make you feel comfortable being here," he said. "This is their town now, too. This place has a way of making you feel that way. Great neighbors. So I think it's important as many times as we can get out there, to help those who are less fortunate, we try to do that."
Bills team chaplain Len Vanden Bos, who organized the lunch, performed a chapel service before the meal. He gave those in attendance two instructions: 1. Eat, and 2. Make the coaches work hard.
That they did, serving meals and clearing dishes while at the same time posing for photographs or simply taking a few minutes to talk with those in attendance.
"It's a great thing for our organization to come out and give back to the community,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “You find out that as much joy as it brings to them, it brings us a lot of joy as well. It's an awesome experience. ... You know these are people who are less fortunate than we are. It kind of brings you back to reality a little bit, brings perspective to what we do. It's a good thing."
During the season, it’s not uncommon for Bills players to make community appearances of all sorts. With the notoriously long hours that come with their profession, coaches rarely have the same opportunities. Now, in the offseason, that changes.
“It definitely breaks up our day from the monotony of the offseason, where you're watching cut-ups of your previous season and then having to go back and grade college players or NFL free agents,” Frazier said. “So it's great to be able to get out, get in the community and get your mind off of it for just a little bit.”
The Bills’ visit comes a day before the Buffalo City Mission is scheduled to announce a six-figure financial commitment from the Kaleida Health Foundation, which will be used to support the mission’s new 75,000-square-foot community center at 100 E. Tupper St. That announcement will take place at 10 a.m. Thursday, and is part of the mission’s $15 million Next Century Capital Campaign, which supports construction of a new center, which will provide space for transitional housing, social service agencies, case management, mental health services, medical care, job training, legal services and food and clothing for the homeless.
“You see how much goes into it,” Daboll said. “They're open 365 days out of the year, breakfast, lunch and dinner. So all the support staff, the administration here, they were fantastic last year and again this year as well. We're all in this thing together. … We work for the Buffalo Bills' organization, but the Buffalo Bills is bigger than just the Buffalo Bills. It's the community of Buffalo and the surrounding areas. Just to show a small appreciation for some of the people around here makes you feel good.”