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Bills fan ignites donation frenzy for visual impaired organization following Sunday's game

VIA: Visually Impaired Advancement
VIA Facebook post
Posted at 6:54 PM, Dec 14, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Bills Mafia is back at it again, flooding a charity with donations.

This time, the donations are in $17 increments to a Buffalo non-profit called VIA: Visually Impaired Advancement.

This comes after the Bills' Sunday night game in Tampa Bay, where fans felt there were many missed calls against the Tampa Buccaneers, including two on Stefon Diggs in the end zone. The pass interference calls could have potentially changed the game's outcome.

7ABC's Pheben Kassahun spoke to the latest recipient of Bills fans' good will, and learned why it was all in honor of NFL referees.

VIA vision education specialist, Ray Zylinski said, "When somebody comes together and donates to VIA, it goes to help not just one person, not just two people but the visually impaired community, and then the visually impaired community from that support, goes out into the community and helps others. It's just an amazing thing to have one donation come through and then starts this cascade of giving."

VIA vision education specialist, Ray Zylinski is overjoyed by the amount of donations coming into VIA, which is a nonprofit rehabilitation for the visually impaired, following the upset from Sunday's Bills game.

"You know, it's nothing new for the Bills. We've always gotten calls that were difficult," Zylinski said. "We have such a large community of supporters here and whether that be supporting the Bills as fans or supporting local nonprofit organizations like VIA: Visually Impaired Advancement, that's really what I love most."

"It was interesting because when I saw the donation, I thought, 'Oh wait, what is $17?' And then I saw the message behind it and I was a little bit confused and then I put two-and-two together of, 'Oh my gosh. This is for the refs, and Hunter had that funny thing of, 'to stop referee blindness.' I go, 'Oh my gosh. How tongue and cheek of him to really go for this. Then, whenever I saw the $17, I called our development director and I said, 'Hey, what is this,?'" VIA marketing and communications manager, Samantha Burfiend said. "We are getting inundated in the minute. So, as I've been talking to people. We're at least getting one or two every couple of minutes. We're really hoping for a good turnout from this, but it has been quite the extreme, especially since it got onto Twitter."

The staff at the nonprofit figured they would use this great moment as an educational piece, in the community.

"Just a big thank you to those on social media who see a good cause. For us, I think with COVID, we kind of get nervous and apprehensive to donate because every dollar counts for us as people," Burfiend said. "Any dollar counts because that is somebody who is able to go to a clinic visit. That's somebody who is able to get an orientation ability, a cane walk technique."

VIA: Visually Impaired and Advancement president and CEO Tammy Owen told 7ABC, "I was so surprised and so pleased that, here's a gentleman from Massachusetts. He's not even from Buffalo. He was very disgruntled with the calls that the ref made and just thought, 'these refs are blind' and then he turned that into something very positive, and the way that he sent the donation was just so- it was positive. It wasn't derogatory. He just represents a positive fan who loves the game and wanted to turn it into something that helped other people in a very generous way."

Although VIA recognizes that NFL officials may not actually be impacted by visual impairment, VIA has many clients who enjoy watching the game of football and love to experience it in person," according to VIA.

That disappointed fan is Hunter Schinabeck. Schinabeck has never lived in Buffalo but said his father lived in the city, and recalls visiting his grandfather in Buffalo when he was younger.

Schinabeck said, "It was frustrating as a Bills fan, especially one of my age. I was thinking I was about to see possibly the best of Bills comeback from what I can remember, but then we got to see Tom Brady's 7th hundred touch down throw instead, so I guess the NFL got what they wanted."

He figured he would use this as an opportunity to make a positive impact after reading about someone made a joke about it on a subreddit post.

"I knew this is something that Bills Mafia has done; jumping through tables to now donating to charity," he explained.

Now the avalanche of support from Bills fans alike, has made for another reason to give back to the charity this holiday season.

"I think it's admirable as a fan base, that we can take stuff that has gone wrong. These bad situations and at least make light out of it. I didn't expect for this to happen at all. I just saw the Twitter post that they made where they quoted what I put for my donation. Just looking at the replies and the support," he said. "I guess it feels good. It started as a joke and now snowballed into something that's going to make a difference."Now, it is a win for everyone.

As of Wednesday, Bills Mafia has donated $40,000. Anyone interested in helping out can click here.

Bills Mafia is known for its generosity. Recently, the fan base collectively donated roughly $100,000 to a Louisiana Food Bank, in honor of Bills cornerback, Tre-Davious White, following his season-ending injury.