Buffalo Bills Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, and Jim Kelly were the headliners, but hardly the only big names that paid tribute Thursday to the victims of the racist mass shooting on Buffalo’s East Side this past weekend. The trio was joined by other former Bills players as well as team owners Kim & Terry Pegula and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who grew up a short drive away in Jamestown, NY.
“It was something that I had to do,” Smith said to the media not far from the scene where ten lost their lives and three more were shot. “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.”
Like many of the volunteers, Smith flew in for the sole purpose of working within the Buffalo community.
The group began their day at the memorial to the victims, across the street from the supermarket where a white supremacist opened fire on innocent victims this past Saturday. They then moved on to meeting members of the community, packing bags of food and supplies, and speaking with the media to spread the word far and wide about healing, love, and steps forward.
The group worked with the Resource Council, FeedMore WNY, and the Buffalo Peacemakers while volunteering. Former players Terrence McGee, Jon Corto, David White, Demeris Johnson, and Ed Rutkowski joined the trio of former Hall of Famers and the executives.
“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,” said Smith, who frequently referenced the racist cause of the crime in his remarks.
The entire current roster of players and coaches spent Wednesday in the area, laying flowers at the memorial before serving food to community members and posing for photos. That’s just the beginning, according to QB Josh Allen, who was on scene Wednesday. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell helped ensure Allen is right.
“We all know we have a tragic circumstance here of 10 victims, but there are a lot of other people here really hurting,” said Goodell, who donated $50,000 to the Buffalo Bills’ social justice fund to support the players’ efforts to create change in the community going forward. “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.”
The Buffalo Bills Foundation and the NFL Foundation each donated $200,000 to support ongoing efforts in the community. Half will go to the Buffalo Together Community Response Fund for longer-term efforts for change while the other half will go to local non-profit to fill immediate needs in the community.
The Pegulas haven’t announced a philanthropic gift at this time, but they were out volunteering Thursday to uplift the community, per Terry Pegula.
“It hit you really hard,” owner and team president 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.”
Kim Pegula also talked about how she and her husband are going to attempt to make a local impact going forward and not just now, in the moment.
“We want to listen to them and understand what the true needs are, and with the goal in mind of sustainability,” she 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?”
She notes she doesn’t have any answers right now, but vowed to work toward them.
The Bills have set up a website to collect all the resources in the community. There you can find links for help with food if you live on the East Side of Buffalo and are impacted by the closure of the grocery store, access mental health services as you manage the trauma, plus access information on how to help overcome racism in the local community and spread peace. If you’d like to donate money directly to aid organizations, links are available on the site, as well.
In addition to volunteering Thursday, Thurman Thomas was among the first to begin to raise funds for the victims and community. You can read more about his efforts here and donate to the Thurman Thomas Family Foundation.