Confined to his Kansas City home by a newborn and the rules of social distancing, Mitch Morse sat on his couch last week and reflected on the past year.
On March 11, 2019, the former Missouri offensive lineman inked a four-year, $44.5 million contract with the Buffalo Bills. After four seasons with the Chiefs and nearly a decade in the state of Missouri, Morse and his wife, Caitlin, were headed halfway across the country to a new team and an unfamiliar city.
The jump was scary. Kansas City, with friends nearby, family in Texas and in-laws in Nebraska, was comfortable. Buffalo, New York, was a complete unknown.
A year later, Morse considers the city a third home, along with Austin, Texas, and Kansas City.
In Buffalo, he and Caitlin discovered "blue-collar folk" and a "Midwest feel," the kind they had enjoyed all of their lives. The community was welcoming. The fans were rabid. At restaurants like Ilio DiPaolo, an institution in Buffalo, the Morses were treated like family. The first season with the Bills was a success, ending in 10 wins and a playoff appearance.
"We were really the only two people we had there," said the center, who appeared in two Southeastern Conference championship games with the Tigers. "But the team and the city and the community took us in with open arms."
Inside his home in Kansas City last week, Morse, just like the rest of us, was living in a very different world than before. The coronavirus had reached all 50 states by then, and Morse watched as cities all over the nation attempted to respond, bracing for the unknown.
Sitting at home while NFL free agency barreled along in the midst of a pandemic, the Morses brainstormed what they could do for their adopted city, the one that had given so much to them over the past year, even from 980 miles away.
On Thursday, the couple donated $100,000 to FeedMore WNY, a Buffalo-based food bank that serves in-need community members in the city and four surrounding counties.
"You hear all these stories about students, the elderly, all these people who have had the rug pulled out from under them and can’t get meals," Morse said. "It’s been such a blessing to be a part of that community. Now, with so many people in need, we wanted to give back."
More so than maybe even the Morses knew, the donation came at a crucial time.
Within its pocket of western New York just 30 minutes south of Niagara Falls, in a region where one in eight people are at risk of hunger or food insecurity, FeedMore WNY is especially vital.
The organization, with its 300 partner agencies, fills plates and delivers nutritious meals across the Buffalo area on a daily basis, procuring and distributing food through pantries, soup kitchens, school lunch programs, shelters and Meals on Wheels. In a given month, as many as 129,000 vulnerable individuals — 41,000 households, 50,000 children, 17,000 senior citizens — rely on FeedMore WNY as a fundamental resource.
As the pandemic has swept the nation, overwhelming the state of New York in particular, FeedMore WNY’s ability to efficiently serve its community has come under threat. Local school closings have jeopardized lunch programs. Layoffs in the area have created more need. Nearly 300 additional elderly clients have been added for delivery service in the past week alone.
The increased demand on the organization’s services comes at a time when its supply chains have diminished. As cities and private companies all over the United States brace for the unknown, the resources FeedMore typically relies on have weakened. As of late last week, the organization’s ability to continue to successfully cater to all of its in-need neighbors in the community in the coming weeks and months was in jeopardy.
The Morses’ contribution changed everything.
"This donation has transformed the way we can help our hungry community members," FeedMore WNY spokeswoman Catherine Shick said. "It’s put us in a position to serve our neighbors during this unprecedented crisis and well beyond it."
Among the factors that attracted the Morses to FeedMore WNY was just how far their dollar could go with the organization. As FeedMore WNY seeks to maintain its most crucial programs, such as its "Backpack Program" that provides food to students in schools or Meals on Wheels that serves the elderly and handicapped, their money will go a long way.
A $25 contribution can provide a backpack of food to five children; $10 can ensure two delivered meals for a homebound community member. The Morses’ contribution alone could support those programs for weeks and months.
With the help of a partnership with local radio station "97 Rock," the Morses’ donation has generated increased donations from around the region, with FeedMore WNY attributing thousands of dollars in subsequent donations to the Morses’ original contribution.
In addition to providing vital, immediate support, the donation has allowed the organization to situate itself for the future, equipping itself and its many agencies for the uncertainty ahead.
"We’re so grateful to Mitch and Caitlin," Shick said. "Together, they have provided this source of light and hope in what is a dark time."
To Morse himself, he’s no hero. This, he feels, is the least he can do.
At home in Kansas City, he laments that he cannot be in Buffalo to give his service or his time. He’s made enough money playing football to last a lifetime — a fact not lost on him — and this donation is his way of providing some aid from afar.
As he considers the impact of the donation, Morse’s mind jumps to Buffalo and the community that embraced him and his family. He thinks of the people there now, the ones doing their part in his adopted home of only one year, and hopes, if nothing else, that he’s done his part, too.
"Right now it’s really about the people on the front lines, the person working at the food bank or the person facilitating these meals out to people who need them most," Morse said.
"At this moment, they’re the superheroes."
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