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Bills fans' frustration with officiating leads to unprecedented donations for visual impairment agency

Renee DiFlavio of VIA speaks of donations made to the institution by Buffalo Bills fans since last weekend's loss by the football team
Michael Mroziak
Renee DiFlavio of VIA speaks Nov. 16, 2021, of donations made to the institution by Buffalo Bills fans since last weekend's loss by the football team.

When Buffalo Bills fans became upset at missed calls during last weekend's game, they decided to donate to a local visual impairment organization. While this started as a way for fans to claim the referees didn't see the play, the receiving organization saw its largest wave of donations in its 114-year existence.

Officials at Visually Impaired Advancement say Bills fans, better known as Bills Mafia, have continued to send donations since last Sunday’s National Football League game, an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bills fans say a critical penalty, a pass interference by the Tampa defense, unfolded in full view of the officials but was never called. Buffalo, meanwhile, was penalized for the same call and the result helped the Buccaneers continue to their eventual win.

Renee DiFlavio, VIA’s senior vice president of development, says the first donation came on Monday from a Bills fan living in Massachusetts. It would prove to be the first of many from more fans.

“In only a few days, VIA has received roughly 1,700 donations totaling over $40,000,” she said. ”In our 100 year history, we have never seen support of this magnitude. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has donated, whether they are born and raised in Buffalo, or supporting us from afar. We’ve received international donations and we've also received donations from just about every US state.”

Previously known as the Olmsted Center for Sight, VIA secures adaptive equipment and provides education, vision rehabilitation, job training and placement for visually impaired clients of all ages.

One of those clients, identified only as Jordan, is now an employee at VIA. At age 12, Jordan was diagnosed with glaucoma. By age 19, he lost his eyesight.

VIA, he says, helped him learn to handle everyday tasks such as cooking, washing and ironing his clothes, and walking safely in public.

He also credits VIA with training him most recently for the latest change in his life, becoming a father. He’s now able to participate in caring for his two-month-old child.

“Learning how to change a diaper, being visually impaired, is definitely different. Learning how to you know, bathe the baby, feed him, make bottles, VIA helps with all of that,” he said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.