Last Sunday, Buffalo Bills fans were upset at officials for not calling a penalty on a pivotal play during a 33-27 loss tothe Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, they're turning fury into generosity by helping raise $40,000 for a visual impairment charity over the span of five days.
The Visually Impairment Advancement (VIA), a nonprofit based in Buffalo that helps people with vision loss, thanked the Bills' fanbase – also known as the "Bills Mafia" – after many of them donated in $17 increments, a nod to star quarterback Josh Allen's jersey number.
Samantha Burfiend, VIA's marketing and communications manager, told CBS News on Thursday that their initial reaction was "pure shock" after the first donation. Then after the next 20 came in, she said, they knew it would the donation tally would be big. As of Thursday morning, the fans helped raise $40,000, she said.
"We are still in awe and are taking this as an opportunity to educate the public about those living with vision loss and the great asset they are to our community," she said, while thanking Bills fans for understanding VIA's "importance to the community."
It all started after the Bills' disappointing loss on Sunday. Many fans thought a missed pass interference penalty during the game potentially influenced the outcome. Instead of sulking, they turned their anger into action.
Hunter Schinabeck, a lifelong Bills fan, was one of them. VIA posted a message on Twitter that he sent the organization with his donation.
"It is saddening to witness someone being unable to see the blatant pass interference on Stefon Diggs (Buffalo Bills, #14). hopefully, this donation is a small step in the greater fight of fighting blindness and getting those with visual impairment the help they need so something like this never happens again," he wrote, according to VIA.
Thank you, #BillsMafia members, for donating $17!While we recognize that NFL referees are not visually impaired, $17 makes an impact on VIA to help individuals who are visually impaired. If you would like to donate to VIA, go to https://t.co/YzjDkTzPaH.#LetsGoBuffalo pic.twitter.com/uCCT1pDBgb
— VIA: Visually Impaired Advancement (@viawny) December 14, 2021
He told CBS affiliate WIVB that he found the charity after a quick Google search.
"They seemed to be doing a lot of good, so it was an easy decision at that point," Schinabeck said. "And then I just made my donation in honor of the NFL refs."
"While we recognize that NFL referees are not visually impaired, $17 makes an impact on VIA to help individuals who are losing their vision," Burfiend said.
Burfiend said the money will go toward education, vision rehabilitation, job training, job placement and support for people of all ages. Clients range from babies to those more than 100 years old who are legally or totally blind, she added.
It's not the first time Bills fan stepped up for. Earlier this year, Bills fans donated to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson's charity after he got injured during the AFC divisional playoff game.