By John Anderson
Being a fan of Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills is easy if you live in Western New York, or you are from the region and live anywhere in the United States, as BillsMafia and Bills Backer bars are easy to find on a Sunday.
For Buffalo native Dominic Puntillo, it's not that easy. As a member of the Army National Guard, he was deployed for one year to the Middle East. The prime-time games are on when most people are sleeping.
Not only that, his unit from the United States is based out of Baintree, Mass., and he is surrounded by New England Patriots fans.
While his unit will cheer for the Patriots when they face the Bills, for one shining moment, the Massachusetts natives were not only Bills fans, but Josh Allen fans and fans of the John R. Oishei Children's Hospital and cancer services in Buffalo.
The unit was recently shipped three cases of Josh's Jaqs cereal, enough for the 40 men and women in the platoon. Dominic's mother, Kim, reached out to PLB Sports & Entertainment for a possible donation of a few boxes. Her simple email said, "This would be a very bright spot in a very long year away from his home and family. Thank you for your consideration."
The email reached Ty Ballou, the president of PLB Sports & Entertainment. Working with Marketing Manager Ryder Ballou, they were able to get the three cases to Kim Puntillo who shipped them out to Qatar.
"I was hoping for a small donation, I did not expect enough to feed the entire unit," Kim Puntillo said with a laugh.
The Josh Allen cereal, in its third year, was a hit with the hungry troops, even if they were Patriots fans. They posed with photos, and even had some fun, covering their faces in some photos to protect their Patriots-fan identity.
The connection to Oishei Children's Hospital made it easy for the platoon to root for Allen and the cereal. The Buffalo Bills' quarterback donates all proceeds from the cereal to the hospital and The Patricia Allen Fund which helps a team fight pediatric cancer.
Dominic Puntillo grew up in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst and attended Sweet Home High School and was one of the top hockey players in the region along with his brother, Mike.
Parents Dennis and Kim Puntillo would travel the country supporting their kids. Because of the age difference, they were on different travel hockey teams, splitting the family up to watch tournaments. They were thankful one year when both boys were playing in separate tournaments in Cleveland on Thanksgiving.
Dominic graduated in 2009 from Sweet Home and went on to play at Curry College while Mike graduated in 2011 and was starting his college hockey career when he was injured in Buffalo.
Mike was rushed to Millard Suburban and the doctors found a brain tumor after a computerized tomography (CT) scan. They had the family go to the Gates Vascular Institute at Buffalo General that night.
Because he was still a teenager, he then started seeing Dr. Veetai Li at Oishei's Children's Hospital, a pediatric neurosurgeon.
"Mike never had symptoms of a tumor and we were fortunate they did a biopsy and found out it was cancer," said Kim Puntillo. "They did radiation and there were some complications. He had to have surgery three years ago."
Mike travels the country with his job as a physical therapist but still has to come back once a year to Oishei Children's Hospital for a cancer check.
"That night they found brain cancer, Dr. Li was on call and we were fortunate to have him ... and he's still with us today," Kim added. "Mike will be a life-long patient at children's."
When the cereal arrived, the soldiers looked at the boxes and saw where the proceeds were going. Allen also has JA 17 coffee with plbse.com that benefits the Patricia Allen Fund at the hospital as well.
Dominic then called home to thank mom.
"When Dom called he said, 'It makes me feel a lot better knowing that the proceeds from the cereal are going to fight pediatric cancer.' Dom is not one to accept donations, but knowing this is a good cause meant a lot to him," Kim said. "When it comes to Josh Allen, he almost seems too good to be true. What a good person he is and always paying it forward. To see these products bringing a smile to the platoon and knowing they help a charity we love makes this whole story come full circle."
"Obviously, Oishei is very near and dear to my heart, helping the children's hospital there and having the Patricia Allen Fund there," Allen said. "Most of the proceeds from these products go straight to the Patricia Allen Fund means a lot because, one, it's a very deep impact on what the hospital is doing (and purchasing), the instruments, the tools and the machines. I actually went there recently and got a chance to see some of these devices, and it really is life-altering type of equipment we are able to buy."
While Kim talks about Josh Allen paying it forward, her son is doing the same thing.
In his civilian life, Dominic is a husband to his wife, Kaitlyn (a special education teacher) and they have a 9-month-old daughter who will turn one on Veterans Day. He is also a 6th grade math and science teacher, a JV hockey coach and a First Lieutenant in the Army National Guard.
The camp Dom is stationed at in the Middle East is known for humanitarian efforts, helping evacuated refugee Afghan children ages 4 to 18 with a community education center. The children have not been able to go to school for almost a year and they are now learning English and geography of America while waiting for processing and the start of a new life.
"Dom is volunteering as a teacher during the week," Kim said. "My son is not a person who would like acclaim, he would rather have things like Josh Allen's cereal for the people he works with at the base. The media in the Army wanted to feature him for his extra work he does with kids and he said 'no.' His heart is just set on helping others ... He is an unsung hero here, that's for sure."
Dominic is serving his country and the Army has helped in his educational mission as he has received two degrees through the military and may get a third. He joined the Army after college and went in as an officer.
"I'm just glad he has something other than his Bills flag when he's watching them on primetime at 3 a.m.," Kim said. "He was able to share a little of the Bills with the guys."
But will they convert?
"He's working on them!" Kim added.