Fans give millions to Hamlin's toy drive for kids

by Ricardo Gutierrez - A GoFundMe page started by Damar Hamlin in 2020 aimed at buying toys for kids has seen nearly $3.7 million donated since the Bills safety went into cardiac arrest during Monday night's game against the Bengals.

11:53 AM ET ESPN News Services Damar Hamlin 's goal was simple: He wanted to raise $2,500 online to buy toys for needy kids. It took about two years. Then came Monday, when the Buffalo Bills safety was critically injured and needed his heart restarted on the field in a chilling scene that unfolded during a nationally televised game against the Cincinnati Bengals . He instantly became one of the biggest stories in sports, and thousands of people found his GoFundMe page. The result: roughly $3.7 million donated in the first 12 hours. And the number is climbing. A fundraiser that as of last month had raised $2,921 was up to $3,637,590 by 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday -- with about 130,000 people going online in that span to donate, on average, about $28. Some of the donations were smaller. Some were more than $5,000. On average, about three donations were being made every second in that initial 12-hour span. Editor's Picks Bills say Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest in game 43m Alaina Getzenberg Many came with messages of hope for a 24-year-old player in his second season, sedated in a Cincinnati hospital, listed in critical condition and with some teammates unwilling to return to Buffalo just so they could remain close to him. "There are moments in life that stop the world," wrote Michael Lynch, who donated Tuesday morning. "We all pray for two things. Your speedy recovery and that your impact to the world is enhanced by your go fund me." The messages poured in from different fan bases, many of the donors letting the world know that they support other teams. One came with a hashtag that read, "We are all Bills fans." In a statement Tuesday , Hamlin's family expressed its "sincere gratitude for the love and support showed to Damar during this challenging time. We are deeply moved by the prayers, kind words, and donations from fans around the country." Hamlin started the GoFundMe in December 2020. He was just wrapping up his college career and getting ready for the NFL draft process. And he wanted to have a toy drive at Kelly and Nina's Daycare Center in his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, a place with about 6,000 residents along the south bank of the Ohio River. "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 when setting up the drive. "I created The Chasing M's Foundation as a vehicle that will allow me to deliver that impact, and the first program is the 2020 Community Toy Drive. This campaign gives you the opportunity to contribute to our first initiative and positively impact children who have been hardest hit by the pandemic." Bills Safety Damar Hamlin • Chose Pitt over Ohio State and Penn State coming out of high school in western Pennsylvania • Was a second-team All-ACC selection in final season at Pitt, leading team with 67 tackles • Taken with the No. 212 overall pick, in the sixth round, of the 2021 draft by the Bills • Appeared in 14 games as a rookie, making two tackles • Has appeared in 15 games this season, including 13 starts in place of injured Micah Hyde. Tied for second on Bills in tackles (91), with one forced fumble and 1.5 sacks He pulled the first event off with about 10 days of planning. Gifts poured in, some of it clothing donated by Pitt , where he had just finished playing. Hamlin's upbringing was far from easy: He lost three friends to gun violence while growing up and saw his father incarcerated for about 3½ years for selling drugs. But as soon as he was able, Hamlin wanted to help others. So, he started the toy drive. And on Monday, the world finally noticed. Many of the donations came from Bills fans, affectionately known as Bills Mafia, and this is far from the first time they've gone online to show support. In recent years, Bills fans have shown support for Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa 's foundation after he left a game -- also in Cincinnati -- with a concussion; for Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson 's charity after the Ravens lost a playoff game to Buffalo; and many made donations of $16.88 to the P.U.N.T. Pediatric Cancer Collaborative in western New York following the death this summer of FIU player Luke Knox. Luke Knox's brother, Dawson Knox , is a tight end for the Bills. The $16.88 was a nod to their jersey numbers. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.