As Buffalo residents continue to grieve and begin healing from the racist attack at Tops on Saturday afternoon, Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Bills Legends Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Terrence McGee, Jon Corto, David White, Demeris Johnson and Ed Rutkowski wanted to be present to spread love to a hurting community.
"It was something that I had to do," Smith said. "I had to come and pay my respects, number one, to the victims of this horrific rampage of killing of innocent African Americans just going to the grocery store. And number two, to show support for this community."
Many in the group flew in to pay their respects and spend the day volunteering by handing out food and products to those who needed it.
The group started the day at the Tops on Jefferson Avenue. They dropped off flowers and spoke to community members who frequented the Tops or were in the area when the massacre occurred. While it was emotional, seeing the memorial site made an unthinkable hate crime feel real.
"It hit you really hard," Kim Pegula said. "Seeing those names, seeing the location, just a lot of things going through your mind. So, I think it was really important for us to really help absorb some of the pain to be here."
"I cried liked a baby," Smith said as he saw the names of the fallen 10. "I wept, but it was good. I needed to have that moment so I could start this healing process. And to be here today passing out food with my brother Thurman (Thomas), Jim (Kelly), the Pegulas, Roger (Goodell) and so many others. And then seeing the community.
"I bet you this racist did not count on this outpouring of love that's taking place right now. The strengthening of this community that's going on right now, we're going to build on that."
Bills legends, the Pegulas and commissioner Goodell got to be a part of that strengthening experience on Thursday afternoon by bringing smiles to those who hadn't done so in days. Many said just seeing the group around helped them take their mind out of a dark place.
"These people need to be uplifted after what happened," Terry Pegula shared. "Our presence, I think, actually accomplished some of that. It was so such a joy to see people actually smiling. The message to the people is things will get better. I really believe that."
Goodell was part of the group that flew in to volunteer. He felt inclined to show up because Buffalo has a special place in his heart. Goodell is from Jamestown, New York, which is less than an hour and a half from Buffalo.
"We believe this is our community too," Goodell said. "I have a personal connection to this community because it really is my home. But I think we wanted to make sure people here knew they weren't alone, that we were all supportive of them and how proud we are of the way they're responding. The thing that gave me the most comfort was talking to individuals.
"We all know we have a tragic circumstance here of 10 victims. But there are a lot of other people here really hurting. We just want them to know that all of us are standing behind them and we're all going to do whatever we can to support them."
Scroll through photos of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Sabres alumni Rick Jeanneret, Rob Ray, Marty Biron, Pat Kaleta, and owners Kim & Terry Pegula; as they visit Buffalo's East Side after the racially-motivated mass shooting.
The group followed in Bills players footsteps by continuing to pack bags full of food and products for the community. They partnered with the Resource Council, FeedMore WNY and the Buffalo Peacemakers to ensure everyone was taken care of.
Jim Kelly said he was proud to see the team volunteer on Wednesday and wanted to do the same with his former teammates.
"We understand this is our city too," Kelly shared. "And players nowadays, they've been rallying ever since day one since Josh (Allen) and the guys have been here. I'm proud of them. I mean, that's who we are. That's what the city is all about when you're talking about Bills Mafia."
In addition to showing up and volunteering, Goodell and his wife, Jane, also donated $50,000 to the Buffalo Bills Social Justice Fund to support players' efforts following this weekend's tragedy. The commissioner wanted to let the players decide where the money will go because he knows they can choose somewhere that will create change.
"The players are such a big part of the NFL community but also our communities," Goodell said. "We see that — their leadership, their care and their involvement in the community. We're so proud of the work that they do and the leadership role they play. We want to support them in these efforts.
"A lot of this was driven by them. And we are 100% in their corner and in the corner of our communities to make sure that we do make the long-lasting changes that hopefully will prevent this in the future."
Like the players, the Pegulas don't want to make an impact that only lasts a day or a week, they want to be a part of a long-term plan to help an area in need.
"We want to listen to them and understand what the true needs are, and with the goal in mind of sustainability," Kim said. "How do we improve upon what we're doing, what has been done? How do we prevent things like this? How do we change our behavior and mind in a way that really lasts and is meaningful?
"I don't have the answer, I just know that we're – as an organization, us personally – we're going to listen and have a lot of discussions with our community leaders, with the residents, with our own internal staff, our players, to truly understand and put together a plan that's going to last."
"This affects people that you've grown up with and you've known for 30 years or more," Smith said. "And that's where it hurts the most. It feels like somebody just ripped the insides out of you and it hurts so bad. But we will, we will make this community stronger and hopefully put some more smiles on these folks' faces, spend some time with them and let them know that we love them."
Smith also wants to make the world stronger by changing areas that are full of hate.
"There are some other issues that need to be addressed regarding social media and hate and white supremacy and so forth," Smith said. "But right now we've got to heal this community so we can move forward and then we can tackle these greater issues that affects all of us."
The Pegulas, commissioner Goodell and the Bills Legends left the day feeling a sense of love for the community and hoped that the community felt that too, even in such a difficult time.
"It's who we are," Kim said of why she wanted to spread love to others on Thursday. "Whether it's the coach, the team, us as an organization, you know that that's what we are about. We've shown it in many different ways, in good times and in bad. I think it's just a reminder that that's who we are and that's what we want to represent. And it's so much more important than the actions that we saw last Saturday."
"I was taught to love thy neighbor," Smith said. "Love thy neighbor, not hate. Not go on a murderous rampage because of the color of someone's skin. That's not what we're about. And these platforms and these people that want to spew hate and do things like this, there's no place for them in our society."