BUFFALO, N.Y. — The conversations began Saturday night between Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane, coach Sean McDermott, owners Kim and Terry Pegula, executive vice president of Pegula Sports and Entertainment Ron Raccuia, team captains and others in the organization.
After a racist attack at Tops Friendly Markets on Saturday that killed 10 people and injured three others, the Bills knew they wanted to help in some way beyond giving money and kind words.
As a team, the Bills met on Monday in-person to have tough conversations about what to do next.
That led to supporting the community on Wednesday.
“The Buffalo community, they think highly of the Buffalo Bills, and so it is our job and our role to be here for the community, to be out here and be reachable, to be able to have these conversations,” running back and special teams captain Taiwan Jones said. “And in a moment like this the most important thing is just to show love. So, we wanted to come out here and just love on people, show people that we care, we feel for you.”
Bills players, coaches, front-office members and other staff, along with members of the NHL Buffalo Sabres and National Lacrosse League Buffalo Bandits, came to the neighborhood in tour buses. They wore black T-shirts that read, “Choose Love.” They left bouquets of flowers at a shrine, served chicken Alfredo for 750 people with the help of local chef Darian Bryan and World Central Kitchen, and passed out groceries.
“The only thing we care about … I kind of compare it to one game at a time, like we’re here for our community and that’s it,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “And if people want to look at that and find ways to be enlightened or be acted upon where they see this and they want to start acting upon in their communities, I think that can work. But right now, we’re just here for our community and that’s all. That’s all that matters to us right now.”
There were about 50 players in attendance and some, such as wide receiver Stefon Diggs, flew to Buffalo specifically to show support. Jones was one of the key organizers of the effort through a relationship with Candles In The S.U.N, a nonprofit organization.
“Buffalo is, honestly, this is my first home,” tackle Dion Dawkins said. “This is the place where I first bought a house, I first started to raise a family. … It has affected every last one of us, some more than others, but an event like this, it affected everybody at a height that really can’t be explained. And once again, really just being here for the community, which is our community, is where the growth helps.
“It’s going to take brick-by-brick to build it back, because we had somebody that targeted a community, a neighborhood of African American people. That’s really where the hurt is. And the fact that some people have lost loved ones. And it’s just unbelievable.”
Players and personnel were in the team’s offseason training program, and McDermott expressed pride in the number of players who were there. From Allen serving pasta to the team’s rookies helping to cut up food, to the group simply speaking with the community, the impact was felt. Traffic slowed next to the site to get a glimpse of the group who brought some smiles to a devastated community.
The Bills said this is only the start.
“This is something that we all, the Bills included, the whole community, we gotta continue to rally around all the affected families,” Beane said. “The national media is here for now, but there’s going to be another story soon. It’s up to us and we plan to lead the charge. This is not going to leave people’s lives in a month or a year. This is a lasting thing, and we gotta do our part.”
“… In a moment like this the most important thing is just to show love. So, we wanted to come out here and just love on people, show people that we care, we feel for you.”
Jones added: “We’re here to listen to what we need to do. We have an open ear to hear from the community how we can help. What we do know is we have to be here; we have to show up. So, it is easy for us to be here. The hard part is like you said, thinking of a long-term plan going forward.”
In addition to the physical presence, The Buffalo Bills Foundation, combined with the NFL Foundation, announced a $400,000 donation Wednesday. The money will go toward the Buffalo Together Community Response Fund and a variety of nonprofit organizations working on emergency response efforts.
“It’s hard to find the words to say, and I don’t know if there’s anything you can say to help somebody that’s uneasy about something like that feel better, other than saying, ‘I’m here for you. I hear you. I’m listening to you, and if there’s any way that I can help, let me know because I’m willing to do it,'” Allen said. “Just being there for them to lean on when they need it. Again, that’s a microcosm of what our community needs right now and that’s why we’re out here today.”