As a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Dion Dawkins knows the importance of eating a balanced and consistent diet.
"Food is energy, food is power, food helps the brain and for you to start your day without a meal, you're starting off at a negative," Dawkins said at East Community High School on Tuesday.
Dion’s Dreamers, Dawkins' official foundation, donated $10,000 to FeedMore WNY, a non-profit organization whose mission is "to offer dignity, hope and a brighter future by providing nutritious food, friendship and skills training" to the Western New York Community.
The donation was marked specifically for FeedMore's 2023-24 school food pantry program, which provides students with a variety of groceries, including vegan and halal options, for students to take home.
Half of Dawkins' donation went directly to East Community High School's food pantry.
This week, the Bills along with Wegmans will promote the team's Huddle for Hunger initiatives. From Monday, Oct. 23 to Thursday, Oct. 26, Wegmans will donate proceeds from all Meals 2GO orders up to $50,000 towards the 20 Huddle for Hunger charities who are working in WNY fighting food insecurity.
On Thursday, net proceeds from this week's 50/50 raffle will also benefit the 20 different Huddle for Hunger charities working with the Bills Foundation on this cause.
According to data provided by Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson, more than 45 percent of people live below the poverty line in Buffalo and Erie County and more than 12 percent of Erie County is food insecure.
Food insecurity is defined as the condition of not having access to sufficient food, or food of adequate quality. This issue was put on a national spotlight last year, when a man committed a racially motivated mass shooting at the East Side Tops Market, killing 10 people, all of whom were Black.
Despite over 12,000 people residing in the area (according to the 2020 Decennial Census), Tops is the only grocery store in the zip code, which is roughly 78 percent Black. Predominantly Black neighborhoods in Buffalo have 0.43 times the number of supermarkets as predominantly white neighborhoods.
The food access disparity in the East Side community is a microcosm of a widespread problem throughout the region. Catherine Shick, the public relations manager of FeedMore WNY, spoke about the problem, which was exacerbated by the pandemic and has only grown more dire.
"Unfortunately, food insecurity remains very prevalent right here in Western New York," Shick said at East Community High. "We have not seen those numbers drop in terms of those who need food assistance. Last year alone, FeedMore WNY served over 197,500 individuals throughout Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua County and we've been talking to many of our partner food pantries throughout our four-county service area who've been saying that they've continued to see numbers rise."
Scroll to see photos from the Buffalo Bills Huddle for Hunger High School Challenge and Fan Food Drive with the Rookie Club.
As the cost of living continues to grow, more families have to decide between paying their electricity bills and gas for their car – or for their groceries, Shick said.
That's where programs like FeedMore WNY's food pantry program come into play.
"Our school pantry program really helps individuals and families by providing food pantries right on campuses of high schools and college students," Shick said. "We know that many teenagers are responsible for food acquisition for themselves, for younger siblings and having a pantry right on their campus that can help them and their families make sure that they have enough to eat is just really important."
Dawkins' donation will fund the East Community High food pantry for the entire 2023-24 school year. While the problem of food insecurity is widespread and systemic, programs such as these directly help students who are without easy access to food.
"A lot of them said it just makes them happy," said Natassia West, a food pantry coordinator with East Community High. "Every time we have food pantry Friday, the kids come out and they're just like, 'I'm so happy that this is available.'"
From East Community High, Dawkins drove back to Orchard Park where the Bills partnered with Wegmans, Lactalis and SnapDragon Apple for a food drive held on Tuesday. Through donations from the three companies and residents from the WNY community, the Bills collected nearly 35,400 pounds of food to be distributed through FeedMore WNY.
High schools from around the region competed to donate the most food on Tuesday and the top three will be honored on the field during Thursday night's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Those interested in donating to FeedMore WNY can do so in three ways, according to Shick.
"We always need donations of food, funds and time," Shick said.
Visit this link to find out more about how to contribute to FeedMore WNY.