Each year, the American Dairy Association North East and Buffalo Bills partner to provide $10,000 to a local school district to help them implement physical activity, and health and wellness changes through the Fuel Up To Play 60 Hometown Grant Program. This grant allows NFL Clubs and local Dairy Councils to collaborate and build relationships while helping kids fuel their bodies, community, and the planet.
This year's Hometown Grant was awarded to the Sweet Home School District (SHSD). Students and administrators from Maplemere Elementary School were presented with a $10,000 ceremonial check from Billy Buffalo and former Bills punter, Brian Moorman, on behalf of the American Dairy Association North East and the Buffalo Bills just ahead of kickoff between the Bills and the New York Jets on December 11.
"The excitement and the atmosphere was something that our kids had never really experienced before," the Principal at Maplemere Elementary, James Ryan said. "Just being on the field and seeing their faces and being so close kind of live-game action was just exhilarating."
Once Ryan got word that his district was selected to receive the grant, the interest from students and their families to attend the game was through the roof. So to determine who would go, he had his students write about why they felt attending the game and being a part of the pre-game festivities was something they wanted to take part in.
"Some of the things that the kids wrote about included having shared experiences with their families watching the games and how close they have brought everyone in their family even through the pandemic," Ryan said. "It was really kind of uplifting just to read some of the things that the kids have written about their desire to be there."
The lucky students who were selected had the opportunity to participate in football-themed activities in the ADPRO Sports Training Center, were recognized in front of the fans during a pre-game on-field ceremony, and watched pre-game warm-ups from the Bills sideline. For many of the students, this was their first time at Highmark Stadium for a Bills game.
"One of the students actually told me that it was the best day of their life," Kristi Sajdak, Food Service Director at SHSD said. "Just hearing that from them brought tears to my eyes and just made it that much more of a better experience for myself."
The enrollment at Maplemere has increased by over 25% in the last five years with close to 500 students enrolled for the 2022-23 school year. So, in addition to purchasing some new milk coolers and bags for the cafeteria, part of the funds will be put towards making sure every student has food on their plate for breakfast and lunch.
"We're going to use some of those resources to kind of bolster up our commissary here to make sure that we can continue to provide free breakfast and lunch to every student each and every day," Ryan said.
Ryan and Sajdak see firsthand how the Fuel Up To Play 60 Program positively impacts their students and now, they look forward to improving what the program has to offer thanks to the Hometown Grant.
"Getting the kids to exercise to get them more energy, and get them up and moving, just makes better for better mind and wellbeing," Sajdak said. "Just all around, it really helps with their academics tremendously."
Each year the Bills partner with the Independent Health Foundation and Buffalo Niagara American Heart Association on the Play 60 Challenge and Fitness for Kids Challenge programs, and the American Dairy Association North East on the Fuel Up to Play 60 initiative which encourage physical activity, healthy eating and overall wellness. Local students that participate in our Play 60 programs were invited to the Bills vs. Jets game to participate in activities in the ADPRO Sports Training Center and were recognized on the stadium field during pre-game.