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Donations to Damar Hamlin’s community toy drive pass $7 million

A sign bearing Damar Hamlin's number rests outside the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where the Buffalo Bills player is in critical condition. (Aaron Doster/AP)
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Donations to a community toy drive Damar Hamlin created in 2020 have surpassed $7 million since the Buffalo Bills player suffered cardiac arrest on the field during the NFL game in Cincinnati on Monday night. Hamlin remains hospitalized in critical condition.

The drive’s GoFundMe page, created while Hamlin was a college player at Pittsburgh, had aimed to raise $2,500 for a day-care center run by his mother, Nina, in his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pa., outside Pittsburgh.

The GoFundMe page resurfaced shortly after Hamlin absorbed a hit to his upper body, stood up, fell to the field and was given CPR by medical personnel. The fund moved past the $7 million mark early Thursday, and an update on the page states that funds will be used for “Damar’s community initiatives and his current fight.” Over 220,000 donors, including Tom Brady, Russell and Ciara Wilson, Sauce Gardner, Sean McVay, Davante Adams and several NFL teams and owners, have contributed to the fund.

The NFL postponed Monday’s game as athletes across all sports and fans offered prayers for the 24-year-old Bills safety, who remains at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Hamlin collapsed after a hard tackle on Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins and “suffered a cardiac arrest,” the team announced early Tuesday.

As Bills safety Damar Hamlin remains hospitalized after suffering cardiac arrest, players and medical experts discuss his care and ways to make the game safer. (Video: Rich Matthews/The Washington Post)

News of the existence of the fund spread quickly on social media, with donations quickly following.

“As I embark on my journey to the NFL, I will never forget where I come from and I am committed to using my platform to positively impact the community that raised me,” Hamlin wrote on the fundraising page in 2020, explaining that he had created the Chasing M’s Foundation to help run the toy drive.

Hamlin said he set up the toy drive to “help make the holiday season a little brighter for the kids in our community,” saying then that 100 percent of the funds raised would be used to purchase toys for young people in need, and that he hoped to “positively impact children who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.”

While the GoFundMe page was established in 2020, Hamlin has continued to host toy drives since. An Instagram post shared by Hamlin on Christmas Day shows scenes from a recent event.

In the video, children jump up and down in excitement surrounded by gifts and red and green balloons.

“We’re doing it for the kids. They’re having a good time, man,” Hamlin tells the camera before signing merchandise and posing for photographs with children at the event.

On social media Tuesday, many people continued to share the link to Hamlin’s toy drive, urging donations as people around the world awaited news of the player’s condition.

“Link to Damar Hamlin toy drive. At lease we can do something to help while we all feel so helpless,” read one tweet. “Obviously not a lot that our football community can do in times like this but it costs nothing to share the link and contribute to a cause he’s invested in,” read another.

GoFundMe also posted a link to Hamlin’s fundraiser Monday night, stating that it was a verified campaign, and adding: “Following his injury on the field tonight, fans across the country are showing their support for him and his family by donating to his fundraiser.”

The Bills have one of the NFL’s most active fan bases, and it quickly sprang to action in 2019, with more than $1.4 million contributed to a fund that helped create the Patricia Allen Pediatric Recovery Wing at John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo after the death of quarterback Josh Allen’s grandmother. That same year, more than $41 million was donated to a fund created by J.J. Watt, then playing for the Houston Texans, for Hurricane Harvey relief.

Mark Maske and Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.