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You see it every Sunday — Buffalo fans wearing jerseys, hats and T-shirts to cheer on the team. Wouldn’t it be great if that same gear could also help a family in need?

That’s the idea behind 26Shirts, a charitable initiative founded last fall by Del Reid of Kenmore. Every two weeks, 26Shirts debuts a new limited edition, Buffalo sports themed shirt, and all proceeds benefit a family who lives in Western New York or has regional ties.

The idea is simple but the effects are far-reaching. Profits from the fourth shirt created, which showcased Bills cornerback Nickell Robey, went to 8-year-old Anna Mett of West Seneca, who was diagnosed with leukemia in August 2013. Shirt number 12 featured a “Kelly Tough” design and supported Luke Gomez, a four-year-old battling medulloblastoma, a highly malignant brain cancer. And the beneficiary of shirt number seven, titled “Buffalo Football,” was Nathan Brundage, a 17-year-old volunteer fireman from Lewiston with stage IV brain cancer.

“It was extremely overwhelming for me,” said Nathan’s mom, Angela Price, about being selected by 26Shirts. “I’ve never been in a position to have to accept something like that in my life, so to have someone like Del contact me and say, ‘We want to do this for you,’ was amazing.”

Reid has been a diehard Bills fan his entire life and in 2011 co-founded the Bills Mafia, a sprawling community of Bills fans who support their team and raise money for Roswell Park and other charities. “I was raised in a home that had a picture of O.J. [Simpson] on the wall — until around 1994,” said Reid. As the Bills Mafia grew in popularity on social media (over 30,000 followers on Twitter), Reid began receiving requests to promote various causes and did his best to oblige.

But he wanted to do more, especially after receiving one particularly gut-wrenching appeal to help promote a raffle benefiting Amber Lunn, a two-year-old with retinoblastoma, an eye cancer.

“I just want to help people,” said Reid, a devout Christian who is looking to put his faith into action. “I have a daughter, and in early 2011 we discovered she has a seizure disorder. It’s very manageable. We’re blessed in that it’s nothing like what the people we’ve helped have to deal with, but I have a little bit of insight into how scary it can be and how helpless you feel when it’s your kid.”

In early November last year, Reid developed the 26Shirts concept. In the span of a few days, he announced it online and an artist stepped forward with the first design, which would benefit the Lunn family. Most significantly, he received a call from Dan Gigante, founder of You and Who, a local T-shirt company that donates a shirt to a worthy cause for every product it sells. Today, You and Who handles the point of sale and produces the tees for 26Shirts, while Reid operates the website and finds the beneficiaries and volunteer artists to create the designs.

“Del does this out of the kindness of his heart and he makes nothing from it,” said Price. “He treats you as if he’s known you forever. We’ve become good friends.”

Each design stays online for two weeks, during which time fans can order it. After two weeks, the shirts are printed and the design is retired forever. For every $20 shirt sold, $12 covers production costs, $1 is used to advertise future shirts and $7 goes directly to the beneficiary. As of June, 26Shirts created 15 designs, sold 4,300 shirts and donated more than $30,000 to causes around the area.

Reid says the response has been overwhelming, and there are beneficiaries already lined up for shirts through January. To help those families in the meantime, he created a “Known Needs” page on the 26Shirts website, with links to fundraising pages for families and charities around the region.

Many graphic designers have also stepped forward to volunteer their expertise. Since shirts are printed on demand, their designs can capitalize on whatever has fans talking at that moment — a big play, a newly signed player, a major milestone. Many designs even get the player’s stamp of approval, allowing 26Shirts to use his name and likeness. The most popular shirt so far celebrated Andre Reed’s selection for the NFL Hall of Fame, while a shirt from June featured a Hulk-like Fred Jackson and the word “InFREDible.”

“It was definitely a rewarding experience,” said Jordan Marrs, the Niagara University student who designed the “InFREDible” T-shirt. “It’s cool to see somebody you look up to on Sundays, who’s famous, say, ‘Yeah, I like that design.’”

The support has been so great that, in February,

Reid launched “27’s,” a new set of monthly Buffalo-themed tees that celebrate civic pride and benefit local charities, like the Amanda Hansen Foundation, Hearts for the Homeless and Footsteps of WNY.

“I just hate the whole idea that people see something on TV and say, ‘somebody should do something about that,’ and then they change the channel and watch The Simpsons. No, the person who should do something is you,” Reid said.

In the future, Reid hopes to build relationships with more Buffalo Bills to produce other player-authorized designs, and create a toolkit to help beneficiaries and others promote the shirts in person and through social media. And, most of all, he hopes people follow his lead and pay it forward to those in need.

“These families are scared and facing what may seem like insurmountable odds, but we can do something to give them one exhale, one little ray of light,” Reid said. “Unfortunately, we can’t take the cancers away, we can’t magically mend bones that have been broken, but what we can do is express love.”

To learn more or make a purchase, visit 26shirts.com.
Matthew Biddle is a regular contributor to Buffalo Magazine.