Each year during the holiday season, it's special to see NFL players from around the country doing their part to make a difference in the lives of those in their communities. At the Buffalo Bills, it's no different. This Thanksgiving, Bills players including Micah Hyde, Lorenzo Alexander, Patrick DiMarco, John Miller, Jordan Mills and Julian Stanford, along with some of their teammates, stepped up in a big way to ensure that those near and dear to them got to enjoy the holiday. Here are their must-read stories.
1. Hyde dishes out a big dose of Thanksgiving spirit
For the second consecutive year, Bills Pro Bowl safety Micah Hyde and his wife Amanda hosted a special Thanksgiving dinner for over 100 Western New York youth from the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, on behalf of Hyde's IMagINe for Youth Foundation. At the event, which was held at New Era Field, Hyde was joined by his teammates including, safety Jordan Poyer, tight end Logan Thomas, defensive end Jerry Hughes, cornerback Levi Wallace, offensive tackle Dion Dawkins, cornerback Tre'Davious White and linebacker Matt Milano.
Offering their support for a good cause, the guys lined up to serve the children their meals. The youngsters, who were thrilled to spend time with some of their local heroes, had a ball dancing to the sounds of DJ Milk and DJ Yes, as well as playing putt-putt and getting to take home balloon animals and souvenirs from the photo booth.
When talking to Hyde to find out why he put on the event, his answer was simple.
"That's why I do what I do," said Hyde. "To see these kids smile, I think all the guys here can say the same thing, it's awesome being in front of these kids, being positive role models.
"It's just awesome to be able to come out here," explained Poyer. "Micah is doing a great thing for the community of Buffalo…A lot of these families, a lot of these kids don't have the opportunity to be able to have a real Thanksgiving dinner with the ones that they care about, the ones that they love. So, to be able to come out here, my daughter is having a blast, all the kids are having a blast…is awesome."
The successful event is just one of many that Hyde hosts through his foundation in the Western New York area and his hometown of Fostoria, Ohio, each year.
"It's always a great event and we just love doing it," said Hyde. "We think it's important. Obviously, we're thankful for our friends and our family and we're thankful to be a part of the Buffalo Bills. To be a part of this community is huge, so we try and give back to the kids and what better way to do it than to come here [and] hang out, have fun, eat some good food and it's fun for us also."
2. A night at the theater with Lorenzo Alexander
Bills veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander also had something special up his sleeve this Thanksgiving. Building upon the relationship that he has developed with the local South Park High School football team, a group that he has worked with through his ACES Foundation, Alexander and his wife Manjanique took students to the theater to watch the Broadway hit musical, "Hamilton."
Alexander, who has given back to the students and others in Western New York in a variety of ways, explained the importance of introducing the adolescents to the arts.
"I have a relationship with Tim Delaney [head coach of the South Park High School football team] and South Park [High School] but I guess some of my better ideas like going to [see] 'Black Panther' earlier and going to see 'Hamilton' tonight was really my wife's idea," said Alexander. "I kind of stole them from her and implemented them and it's really just to put these young men in different situations and different cultural settings that they normally wouldn't be exposed to. I know I didn't get a chance to see my first Broadway show, that type of environment, until I was in college. Going to see Alvin Ailey up at Zellerbach theater up in Berkeley [California], so I think the earlier, the better.
"Obviously, they may not appreciate it quite yet but when they look back on it [they'll say], 'Okay cool. I've been here before, I've been exposed to this. And then…you know it kind of opens their box and their perception of what they could be if they're interested in that and you get to see a diverse group of people coming together and putting on art. It's kind of cool to watch and see."
3. DiMarco family spreads hope this holiday season
Bills fullback Patrick DiMarco and his family got into the Thanksgiving spirit on Wednesday night when they paid a visit to the Matt Urban Hope House in downtown Buffalo. At the center, which provides emergency shelter for women and women with children, DiMarco, his wife Kristin and his parents, who are in town from Orlando, Florida, took the time to serve Thanksgiving dinner.
"We are serving Thanksgiving dinner to women and kids in need," said DiMarco. "It's near and dear to us. We've been a part of similar events when I was in Atlanta and it's just an opportunity to give back. There's plenty to be thankful for this time of year and there's plenty families that are not as fortunate as we are. So, it's just an opportunity love on them, give back [and] have a good time. [We're going to serve them] Thanksgiving dinners – turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, hopefully some macaroni and cheese. It's going to be a blast. There's going to be some music, some giveaways and stuff like that.
Photos from the annual Thanksgiving Blitz where the Buffalo Bills teamed up with the Food Bank of WNY to distribute hundreds of Thanksgiving meals to local families.
4. Miller makes most of his day off
Guard John Miller joined his teammates in spreading Thanksgiving cheer this week. Through his foundation, Miller, along with a few of his fellow Bills such as Dion Dawkins, Jordan Mills and Mike Love, spent his night off with over 100 Buffalo residents where he served them Thanksgiving dinner at the Northwest Buffalo Community Center.
"I actually did serve the meals," said Miller. "I put on gloves, the whole nine yards. There was about 125 people, some kids [and] a couple of their family members. So, it was a good chance to give back to the community and have a chance to serve the kids. After that I walked around and sat down and talked to some of the kids to make it more interactive."
Miller, who has hosted community events in the past, was thrilled to be able to make a difference – especially for the kids.
"The kids were excited," he said. "I actually remember a few of them from the last time I was there because I did a bookbag drive there at the community center too. With the kids it was awesome, a lot of good smiles, they went back for seconds, so it was all good."
5. Mills makes Thanksgiving memories in Louisiana
Not only did Bills players make this Thanksgiving one to remember in Western New York, their efforts extended far beyond the region. During the bye week, Bills tackle Jordan Mills made his way to his hometown of Napoleonville, Louisiana, where he spent time reconnecting with old friends and family. While in town, Mills and his wife also hosted a special event through the Jordan Mills Foundation. The free community outreach initiative invited locals to Mills' alma mater Assumption High School to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner.
"Me and my wife decided to start my foundation together mostly focusing on kids – young kids and kids in high school with education and trying to help them as much as we can," explained Mills. "…We wanted to give back to our communities because she's from a small town next to my hometown. So, I wanted to go back and give to my hometown, and people that have been supporting me ever since I was in high school and [also] give back to the elderly and the people who are not fortunate enough to have a Thanksgiving meal with their families. Whether it be they don't have enough funds or they're just by themselves and all their family is gone, I just wanted to have that day to share with them for a couple of hours [and] for them to be around my family and have that feeling for them."
For Mills, using his platform to help others is something that he cherishes.
"It meant a lot. People were eating and me giving away turkeys. They wanted to see me and talk to me because they haven't seen me in so long and ask me how the season is going, how I'm doing. They know that I am married now to a beautiful young lady and they wanted to meet her also. And just talking, having that family feeling atmosphere. It meant a lot to me to have the community come out and support me."
6. Stanford stands beside his hometown
Like, Mills, linebacker Julian Stanford also planned a trip home during the bye week. When he decided to return to Bloomfield, Connecticut, he knew he wanted to positively impact those in the area. Stanford succeeded, donating 150 Thanksgiving turkeys to residents there.
"This is the second year we've done it…I donated 150 turkeys," he explained. "We went to the senior center back in my home town Bloomfield, Connecticut, and we distributed the turkeys to 150 families. It was a great experience. To me, it brings me joy to be able to bring joy and share happy times with people for the holidays and just make their holiday special and happy to them. I think the holiday season is very important and having people happy is a great thing.
"[I intend to do this] as long as I can. Last year was the first year that I did it and it actually fell on my bye week like it did this year, so hopefully in the future I am able to do the same thing. I want to do it for as long as I can."