"It's the best night of my life," said nine-year-old Sophia Benintende.
The Benintende family was one of the many families that came out to the Hamburg Fairgrounds Festival of Lights on Tuesday evening for a Holiday Party, hosted by the Bills rookies, which was the final event of the Toyota Rookie Club for the 2022-23 Bills rookie class.
"It's so cool and really heartwarming to be able to give back to others and really just be a positive influence in this community because this organization has given me everything that I have ever dreamed of," CB Kaiir Elam said. "It's everything that I've worked so hard for and for what this organization has given to me, I couldn't be more grateful."
For the first holiday party back at the Fairgrounds since 2019, over 200 people from WNY organizations and their families joined a few of their favorite Bills players to ring in the holiday season. Members of Salvation Army Buffalo, the Boys & Girls Club of Buffalo, and Oishei Children's Hospital, among many other organizations, enjoyed a night filled with holiday festivities from visiting the Reindeer Barn to seeing Santa at the North Pole Experience.
For Benintende, who was there through P.U.N.T., she spent the evening with her family and a friend who she met back in October at the Buffalo Bills Crucial Catch Night. That friend happened to be Elam, who she didn't realize was a member of the Bills when the two first met.
But they both learned something new that night.
Elam was all ears when Benintende started telling her story of her battle with Ewing sarcoma, a cancer that occurs in and around bones. Once Elam learned how tough she was in her fight, he immediately wanted to spend the rest of the night with her. From there, an instant friendship between the rookie and Sophia the Fierce was formed.
"It's just heartwarming, it's moving, and it really is unexplainable," Sophia's mom, Kristina Benintende said. "For a perfect stranger to take on a friendship with a nine-year-old little girl, and especially someone like Kaiir, it's truly heartwarming."
While it came as a last-minute surprise to Elam that Benintende would be attending the holiday party, he wanted to ensure he made it a special night for her the moment he found out she was coming with her family. After riding Santa's Express Train Ride and ending the night by enjoying some Christmas cookies, Benintende confirmed she had the best night after thanks to Elam.
"I just want to be able to be that light and be that good person in her life," Elam said. "She's already fighting and has been through so much, and I just want to be able to come out and have fun and just be a friend to her."
To wrap up this year's Toyota Rookie Club, the Bills rookies hosted over 200 people from WNY organizations and their families at the Hamburg Fairgrounds Festival of Lights for a Holiday Party. The rookies, as well as some other familiar faces from the Bills organization, participated in a variety of holiday festivities with the kids in attendance from visiting the Reindeer Barn to seeing Santa at the North Pole Experience.