For the third annual Huddle for Hunger week, the Buffalo Bills Foundation partnered with Wegmans to create a weeklong initiative to raise awareness on improving access to healthy food for families here in Western New York. While it's a basic need, it is a challenge for low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and rural areas.
The Buffalo Bills Foundation's focus has always been on hunger and wellness, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the tragic mass shooting at the Tops Supermarket in East Buffalo this past May only reassured them that their focus is in line with the needs of the community.
To encourage the community to huddle together around this cause, the Bills visited School 74 in East Buffalo and hosted their annual Community Food Drive at Highmark Stadium to benefit FeedMore WNY.
The week's advocacy efforts were highlighted by a record-setting 38,101 pounds of food collected at the food drive.
While local high schools, Alden, Orchard Park and Grand Island and Cleveland Hill were the top performing schools in terms of promoting awareness for the Huddle for Hunger initiative.
But the importance of this initiative doesn't go away once Huddle for Hunger week is over.
"While we are highlighting the issue of hunger this week, the Bills Foundation is working throughout the year to improve access to healthy, nutritious food for families," Michelle Roberts, Executive Director of the Buffalo Bills Foundation said. "Through our grantmaking and our platform, we support community partners by providing both financial assistance and shining attention to their programs."
For Allison DeHonney, the Executive Director of Buffalo Go Green, informing young children about the importance of making healthy choices and the ongoing issue of accessing those nutritious foods is crucial.
"It's so great to have the team and the foundation support this work because we have so many issues of food apartheid, lack of access, food insecurity," DeHonney said. "As we witnessed at Tuesday's event, a lot of children don't really know different foods. But when there's a Buffalo Bills player coming to support healthy eating options and access, it really makes a big difference in the community."
While DeHonney provided healthy fruits for the students of Hamlin Park to try during the school visit, she also educated them on what they were eating in hopes of having a lasting impact on their healthy food decisions. As an urban agriculture organization, Buffalo Go Green's overarching mission is wellness and nutrition education in underserved communities, in addition to growing and selling products for those communities.
"A lot of our current health issues are due to poor diet and lack of access to healthy food options, and a lot of that is determined where someone lives," DeHonney said. "That's because there aren't healthy options in some of the retail outlets that are across the neighborhoods."
To further educate the youth, a few Bills players also got in on the fun and participated in an afternoon of healthy activities with the students. LB Von Miller and OL Dion Dawkins wrapped up the day with a school assembly where they shared their personal experiences with eating healthy as athletes, especially when it comes to preparing for a game.
"Health is wealth," Miller said. "I've always wanted to be an athlete. I had dreams to run track, I had dreams to play football, basketball, just about every sport just like every single kid. And if you really want to put your best foot forward, especially when it comes to sports, you have to watch how you fuel yourself."
Stevie Johnson, Booker Edgerson, Lou Piccone, Jon Corto and others worked with the Bills Foundation, Wegmans, FeedMore of WNY and local high schools to collect food on this week at Highmark Stadium.
With the power the Bills organization holds, the foundation continues to bring people together, and highlight the causes that are important, all while working to develop a more equitable and resilient food system for those in need.
"We believe that everyone in our community should have consistent access to fresh produce and healthy foods, regardless of their zip code," Roberts said.
Von Miller, Dion Dawkins, Tommy Sweeney, Taiwan Jones, Kaiir Elam and Ja'Marcus Ingram in conjunction with Wegmans visited School #74 Hamlin Park to host an assembly and play with the students.