'Give hope and share grief' | Bills make an impact in visit to Buffalo's East Side

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Josh Allen (17). Players and staff from the Buffalo Bills, Bandits, and Sabres handed out food to the community in partnership with World Central Kitchen and chef Darian Bryan on May 18, 2022. Photo by Ben Green

Today was time to spread love.

Since this weekend's horrific events, many in the community and in Western New York came together to figure out how to help the victims' family members and help provide food and love to an area that needs it now more than ever.

Like so many others in the community, the Buffalo Bills wanted to lend a helping hand to a hurting community.

"We talked about it as a team," quarterback Josh Allen said. "Coach McDermott asked who would be willing to do this and every person in our building raised their hand."

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On Wednesday afternoon, more than 100 Bills players, coaches and staff members bussed down to Jefferson Avenue and partnered with World Central Kitchen and Chef Darian Bryan to give out meals and grieve with those who had been impacted by the mass shooting.

"Obviously unfortunate circumstances of why we're here but to be in the community, give some hope, share some grief, that's how we're going to get past this," Allen said. "I'm super happy and glad for our team for being able to do that."

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Before handing out food, the group of Bills players, coaches and staff members visited the memorial site outside of Tops and honored the 10 victims by paying their respects and dropping off flowers.

Standing in front of the names of the beautiful people who had their lives cut short due to a white supremacist killing people because of their skin color made the moment truly feel real for some.

"It was really tough especially because I used to live downtown and shop at that Tops, so it really hit home," Bills defensive lineman Shaq Lawson said. "It was a sad, sad moment. Going over there, you feel like you were there and, in the moment, that's how your body felt when you went over to the scene."

"It's emotional and it's tough," Bills general manager Brandon Beane said. "To walk down there and see where this happened brings it to home. It's real and it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. What just happened here a few days ago, it's surreal and it's sickening.

"All we can do is what my shirt says, 'choose love'. We have to love one another, and we have to get past this nonsense that continues to happen in the country."

While the players knew it would be a tough day emotionally, they wanted to make sure they were present in the community to grieve with people during such a hard time.

"An event like this affected everybody at a height that really can't be explained," Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins shared. "And once again, just being here for the community, this is our community. 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, and that's really where the hurt is. And the fact that some people have lost loved ones, it's just unbelievable.

"This is a crazy situation that has happened, so we're here and we're acting on it."

It's easy for many Bills players to forget about the power and influence they have in the day-to-day. Many were reminded of just how much of an impact they have when they arrived on the scene. Community members were eager to talk to them, take pictures with them and share how they were mourning.

"The Buffalo community, they think highly of the Buffalo Bills," Bills running back Taiwan Jones said. "And it's 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. In a moment like this, the most important thing is just to show love. We wanted to come out here and just love on people, show people that we care and we feel for you."

Jamie Lash, a Buffalo resident, who used to work at the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue and shops there multiple times a week was all smiles to see her favorite team making a difference in her community.

"Today the Bills came, and that just lifted us up," Lash said with a smile. "I'm just overwhelmed, and I appreciate y'all so much. This means so much, and it just takes your mind off what isn't good to what is good. They have been so loving and caring.

"They have been hugging us, and it was just a joy to see everyone. This time around, we are going to love each other, and it'll never go away. We will always remember our fallen 10, but this time around we're going to love each other up out of the pain and the anger."

Lash said the Bills reminded her of her Tops Market family that she used to work with.

In addition to Lash, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz knew the Bills' presence wouldn't go unnoticed.

"For players to fly in to want to be here it tells you how much this community means to them," Poloncarz shared. "We know about the strong fan support that we have for the Buffalo Bills, and to see those Bills understand that because they know how important they are to this community."

"They are committed to the community," Mayor Brown said. "They know that these are more than just professional sports teams to this community. We love our Buffalo Bills. We love our Buffalo Sabres. We love our Buffalo Bandits, and it's great to see that they love the community back."

For the Bills, today was just step one in their support of those who have suffered because of this unimaginable tragedy. Many players, coaches and staff members plan to be active in the community to continue to help those in need.

"This is bigger than the game of football," Beane said. "This is bigger than all of us. What we do is fun, it can be stressful, all those things, but it's nothing compared to what has happened right down the road here at this Tops and in this community. It's not like Sean and I are coercing people to come down here. This was important for our players and our coaches."

"We're here to listen to what we need to do," Jones shared. "We have an open ear to hear from the community on how we can help. What we do know is we have to be here. We have to show up, so it's easy for us to be here. The hard part is thinking of a long-term plan going forward."

Scroll to see photos of Buffalo Bills, Bandits, and Sabres players and staff as they support the community with hot meals, fresh fruits and vegetables after the racially-motivated mass shooting on Buffalo's East Side.

Pastor James Giles, a community leader and the founder of Back to Basic Ministries, has done work with the Buffalo Bills before and knows their long-term efforts can truly spark change.

"The Bills are in a position where literally hundreds of thousands of people are viewing them every week," Giles said. "To spread that message of love, to spread that message of equality, to spread that message of justice, would be a huge impact on the mentality of those individuals that think they're superior, or think they are supreme in some kind of way. I think with hatred, to begin to eradicate that and the only way we're going to eradicate that is through love."

We can also be a part of the solution. It starts with spreading the message of ending racism and choosing love. It involves us getting outside of our comfort zone to form relationships with those who have different backgrounds.

"I think it's important to be around people from different cultures," Bills cornerback Taron Johnson said. "That's the biggest thing is we're all really the same. We just come from different places and have different cultures. And I just feel like if we spent more time just talking to people who have different backgrounds than us, then we would just be a little bit more understanding."

The Bills wore a t-shirt that read 'Choose Love' as they grieved, smiled and mingled with a community that suffered a gut-wrenching loss less than a week ago. Many residents felt that love as they received a hot meal and had conversations with some of the best players in the NFL.

Players like Josh Allen believe it's important to choose love if we want to grow into a better community and country.

"I think it's just a model that maybe that we should start adopting as a country," Allen said. "It's the golden rule, treating those as you want to be treated. And again, what happened here was disgusting and despicable. There are so many different words you can use and none of them are nice.

"We're here to brighten people's days and try to help move past this, share the grief with our community, and let them know that we care and we want to hold that with them."

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