By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
NORTH TONAWANDA — When Jim Phillips heard how the future Sherwood Avenue home being built by charity for Marine Cpl. Paul Schaus was targeted by burglars, it struck a chord.
Phillips, a Marine himself, and his organization the Buffalo Bills Backers Club of San Diego, are no strangers to philanthropy.
The 300 members there raised money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, sending a check to an American Red Cross outfit in Buffalo, and they helped another Marine out with modifications to his home.
But when Phillips, a Niagara County native, discovered Schaus’s situation documented in the Tonawanda News last week, he brought it up to the hundreds of members who meet regularly at the Pacific Beach Ale House to cheer on their hometown team. They passed the hat and raised $500 in donations on the spot, though it didn’t stop there.
With similar clubs posted around the country and the world and with the advent of Facebook and other social media sites, communication is often just a click away.
According the Buffalo Bills’ official website, Bill Backers International has more than 100,000 fans around the world, with 180 chapters in 40 states and 11 countries.
And since Phillips put the word out late last week, a coalition out of Boston tendered a $300 commitment, while another in Orange County, Calif., a short distance away from his own group, offered another $300. With the kitty at $1,100, more may still be on the way.
“I read about it, I e-mailed all the people in the club,” Phillips said. “I threw 20 bucks in and the next thing you know we have people e-mailing from across the country asking how they can help.”
Most of the members are Western New York expats who left the area and now gather on Sundays — or Monday in some far-flung chapters — to watch their beloved Bills.
Jodie Buckley, Schaus’s cousin who is serving as a family spokesperson, was elated when she discovered the now burgeoning effort.
“This is so exciting I can’t even believe it, there are so many wonderful people out there,” she said. “This is great.”
She said that Schaus, who underwent years of therapy to regain a semblance of his life after losing both of his legs in a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2009, is a humble man who is hesitant to accept assistance.
But the fact of the matter, she said, is that the Marine will have little to put in the house when he moves in — lacking furniture and other necessities.
Buckley also noted that since his television was stolen last week out of the bathroom of the home when a thief broke in through an unlocked window, an anonymous donor who would only identify themselves as a volunteer firefighter has offered to replace it with a donation.
“He needs too much for that house,” she said. “He needs everything. People we know want to help him out so they have just been sending him checks. We were trying to do a benefit for him and he doesn’t want one.”
It will be at least a month before Schaus can move into his home, Buckley said, after the final approval of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a “key ceremony.” And in the meantime, Phillips said he’s going to carry on with fundraising.
“I’m going to continue and try to rally local Bills Backers out here and a few across the country,” he said.
Those interested in donating can contact Phillips at www.studiodiner.com.
at 693-1000, ext. 4115.
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.