It was August 2011 when an inside joke between friends in Buffalo took off and became a website called Bills Mafia.
Have you heard the term Bills Mafia? Del Reid thought up the term to describe himself and other die-hard Buffalo Bills fans. Quickly, it became a website, with cool t-shirts, and a charity component, because Reid and his friends didn't want to take advantage of their fellow Bills fans, but, thought they could do good, while selling awesome Bills Mafia shirts.
Reid, a life-long Bills fan was doing this for fun while working a full-time job at a hospital. Then, in 2013, a man named Scott reached out to Reid to share a raffle he was doing for a Mario Williams jersey.
"My first question was, if you have that in possession why would you want to give that up," Reid said.
He quickly found out that Scott was raffling off the jersey because his daughter had Retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer and he needed money to pay for the many expenses that arise when someone in your family has cancer.
"So I was reading this story and felt really moved," Reid said. "And I said 'yeah, absolutely I’ll Tweet about your raffle and next time we sell a shirt for Bills Mafia I’m just going to give you the money.'
"I was really enjoying helping Scott and checking out the sales we did everyday for this limited edition t-shirt," Reid said. "So I was doing this bible study with some of my friends and I was telling them about it. And I was telling them I think I could sell a shirt every week and help people with it. There's a market for timely t-shirts."
People told Reid he was crazy and he couldn't sell a shirt a week. And he agreed, but said, I can sell one every two weeks. "My friend looked at me and said, 'that's 26 shirts!' But I knew I could pull it off."
The next morning, Reid couldn't stop thinking about 26 shirts. He put together a blog post for BillsMafia.com (now buffalofambase.org) and immediately, the idea blew up.
It was meant to be a one-year, 26-shirt community service project, with each shirt benefiting a different family in need or charitable organization. But Reid realized, there was no need to stop after one year.
26 Shirts took off and now is in its third year of operation. The idea spread from Buffalo to Chicago and Pittsburgh, and, on Monday, April 4, 26 Shirts is launching in Cincinnati!
How it works
Starting on Monday, 26 Shirts will release a new Cincinnati sports themed t-shirt every two weeks, with the first shirt benefiting Pink Ribbon Girls, a Cincinnati-based organization that aims to balance the fear and uncertainty that breast cancer and other women's reproductive cancers bring to individuals and families by providing free direct services, education, and support, according to their website.
"We try to work with families, because I like dropping a money bomb for a family and do what we can to help them, even if it’s just a few moments of relief," Reid said. "But, to that point, we do work with charities too, their work is notable."
Each 26 Shirt t-shirt design will benefit a different charity or family in need in the Cincinnati area. Shirts become available at 12:01 a.m. every two Mondays and for two weeks, 26 Shirts takes orders for that shirt design. Once the two weeks are up, the shirt is gone and can no longer be purchased. So, if you like a shirt, you need to act fast!
"We're not a t-shirt company that helps people, we're a company that helps people through t-shirts," Reid says in describing the business.
$8 from every shirt sold is given to the charity or family determined for that two-week period and $1 from each shirt goes to the shirt designer; the rest of the money funds the operation. Reid is no longer working his hospital job as 26 Shirts has become his full-time job.
How shirts are conceived
"It's not always about being timely," Reid says about coming up with shirt ideas. "The first shirt we have in Cincinnati references Riverfront Stadium. If something wild happens, we're going to take advantage of it. Like a free agent signing or a big game could prompt a shirt. But they're all something a sports fan in that city can relate to and we try to work with artists in that city to design the shirts."
The goal is to have the shirt designed by someone in the city and to help someone in the city.
So far, 26 Shirts has raised $241,000 in Buffalo, Chicago and Pittsburgh, and the hope is that number will continue to grow with the addition of Cincinnati to the 26 Shirts family.
"We're really anxious to partner with Cincinnati fans and start doing good in their city, too," Reid said. "We share a lot in terms of that we're all humans and trying to help each other get through life. We want to help and our ability to help is directly correlated to people's belief in what we're doing."
And, if you have ideas for shirts, or know someone who needs assistance, 26 Shirts wants to hear from you and they want to help.
26 Shirts has been running a contest, giving Cincinnati sports fans a chance to win a full year worth of shirts (that's 26 shirts!). All you need to do is sign up for the 26 Shirts newsletter and you'll be entered. And, there are ways to earn bonus entries, too.
Sign up for the contest and newsletter here! The contest ends on Monday, April 4, when 26 Shirts launches in Cincinnati.