Credit: The New York Times
Mid-December brings an event that all college football fans relish in: the acceptance of the Heisman Trophy. The award honors a young man whose performance in college football stands out among the rest. Previous winners include the likes of Jamies Winston, Cam Newton, and Tim Tebow.
This year, the Heisman was awarded to Joe Burrow, a quarterback from Louisiana State University who led his team in the winning championship game against Clemson. Burrows, voice thick with emotion, offered thanks to his teammates, his coaches at LSU, and his coaches at Ohio State, where he began his college career.
It was an emotional speech for everyone who watched (even those like myself, who are not big football fans), but it wasn’t the gratitude he expressed to his parents and friends that stood caught the attention of many. Burrow cleared his throat to speak of the troubles of his hometown, Athens, Ohio. He may have graduated and left Athens five years ago, but his hometown was still present in his mind.
“I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school,” Burrow says. “You guys can be up here, too.”
Athens County in southeast Ohio faces a rate of poverty unlike many areas of the United States. Over 30 percent of Athens county live below the poverty line— more than double the national average. Many rely on food pantries and shelters for their next meal. Some children arrive at school hungry. Teachers give out food so children have something to eat in the night. One high school stocked a closet with winter jackets, mittens, and socks for students in need.
Burrow’s message of hope ignited something in this rural region no one expected. A communications consultant, Will Drabold, who graduated from the same high school as Burrow just five years prior felt the quarterback’s speech was “like being struck by lightning.” Inspired by Burrow’s words, the very next morning Drabold set up a Facebook page asking for donations to the Athens County Food Pantry with a goal of $1,000.
Fast forward 24 hours, and the drive surpassed by 80 times over. Drabold’s little Facebook page had raised $80,000. About a month later, the page has now raised over $500,000– five times the organization’s annual budget. A number of charitable organizations across southern Ohio also received substantial donations. A food pantry in Baton Rouge, Louisiana– where LSU is based– has raised more than $60,000.
The board president of Athens county Food Pantry, Karin Bright, says their primary objective with these new funds would be expanding their reach. Currently, the organization provides food for 400 families. They hope to provide a wider variety of food to families in need.
“The financial impact is going to be enormous,” Bright said. “We want to make sure this money is used wisely.”
Joe Burrow’s speech poured a wave of good nature into the world that no one could have expected, but desperately need. Volunteer organizations across Ohio continue to receive added support, all because one young man drew attention to a problem that desperately needed it. Now, families in southeast Ohio are going to be with fuller stomachs and fuller hearts than they previously would have.