EAST BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Stefon Diggs and M&T Bank were spreading the holiday spirit on Buffalo’s East Side Tuesday night. The star wide receiver partnered with the bank to surprise 100 families with games, prizes and more.

The William Emslie YMCA played host to the event, which included a photo booth, cookie painting, balloon animals, music and toy giveaways. Diggs says he was excited to see the kids, who rushed to hug him when he entered the community center.

“They don’t get to really spend a lot of time with professional athletes, especially depending on the area they grew up in. So it doesn’t really feel like being Stefon Diggs, it’s more so being impactful to kids. They’re happy to see you, spend some time with them. Show them some love, especially during the holiday season,” Diggs said.

Diggs says he wants to bring smiles to families on the East Side, especially after what has been a difficult year for many. He hopes to uplift the community, emphasizing that football brings us together.

The holiday season is about choosing love, which has been a mantra for the Buffalo Bills all season long. The team adopted the phrase alongside the Buffalo Sabres and other Buffalo sports teams after the racist mass shooting at the Tops on Jefferson Avenue in May. Diggs has made it his mission alongside M&T Bank to support families in the East Side community.

“Because we’re celebrating the holidays and in spite of the tragedy that happened on May 14th, we’re trying to bring the community together, just letting them know that we care,” Kelly Dockery, branch manager at M&T Bank, said.

Residents say they have felt a new energy in the area after businesses and organizations invested on the East Side. They say events like this are important to move forward.

“We haven’t seen this kind of excitement in the community in a long time,” Dondi Marsh of Buffalo said.

“It’s nice to see the community out again, especially after the pandemic and everything that happened over this past summer. It’s nice to see the community out. Everybody’s smiling,” Dawn Ingram added.

The community is choosing to define the year by love instead of tragedy. Diggs hopes he can continue to create positive change and be a role model for these young kids.

“I feel like it’s a community that I’ve grown closer to over time, especially this year. I’m trying to make a huge impact. Being consistent is everything. Even in my job, try to be consistent. Off the field, it’s trying to translate, being consistent and continuing to try to make an impact,” Diggs said.

Diggs even wound up making cookies with the kids Tuesday night and got to paint his own. Some of the families had been tipped off that number 14 would be at the party, but still some children couldn’t believe they got to meet him.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.