Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s loss Saturday night was a win for charity.
After the Buffalo Bills knocked the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player out of their AFC divisional-round game late in the third quarter, Bills Mafia stepped up. A fan on the team’s Reddit page shared a link to one of Jackson’s favorite charities, Blessings in a Backpack, and soon fans on the forum kept the donations pouring in.
The nonprofit organization announced Sunday night that 11,200 donations totaling $290,000 donations had been made in Jackson’s honor. Blessings in a Backpack is a Louisville, Kentucky-based group that “mobilizes communities, individuals, and resources to provide food on the weekends for elementary school children across America who might otherwise go hungry,” according to the organization’s website.
“It is the biggest day we’ve ever had,” spokeswoman Nikki Grizzle said Sunday afternoon. “This is the epitome of good sportsmanship; this is what the world needs more of right now.”
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Grizzle said Jackson — a favorite among the Louisville community, where the Ravens standout played in college and won the Heisman Trophy — had previously raised money for the organization in 2018 through four autograph signing sessions at a local Planet Fitness branch. He raised $25,000 for Blessings in a Backpack through those autographs, she said.
Through partnerships with school systems, the organization provides backpacks full of food to schoolchildren who are food insecure. It costs about $130 to sponsor a child for the year, Grizzle added, and the record number of gifts could help the nonprofit serve even more kids.
Jackson tweeted his support Monday night, saying the gesture from Bills fans “means a lot not to only me but those kids as well.”
Blessings in a Backpack’s work has been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, she said, as more children learn virtually and have less contact with schools. The staff has set up pickup sites in apartment complexes and parking lots both in Louisville and around the country. It started operating as a nonprofit in 2005.
“The Bills mafia did their research,” Grizzle said. “We’re thankful for Lamar and for the Bills mafia.”
The Bills’ fan base doesn’t take its goodwill lightly. After the grandmother of Bills quarterback Josh Allen died earlier this season, supporters started making $17 donations — Allen’s jersey numbers — to Oishei Children’s Hospital, a hospital in the Buffalo area that Allen supports and visits. By December, over $1 million had been raised.
Bills fans also donated to The Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation, named for the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback and his wife, after Dalton helped eliminate the Ravens from playoff contention on New Year’s Eve in 2017 with a deep touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd. The victory led to Buffalo’s first playoff appearance since the 1999 season.