Joe Burrow’s unscripted but genuinely heartfelt Heisman Trophy speech led to a mission he says he’s proud to carry out in about three years.
This has been the mission of the County of Athens Food Pantry for over 40 years.
The joint mission of the Cincinnati Bengals star quarterback and local food organizations has benefited thousands of local residents who face hunger and food insecurity every day.
Burrow’s 2019 Heisman acceptance speech, which referred to Southeast Ohio residents struggling with the daily plight of wondering where their next meal is coming from, came as an unexpected surprise to both the QB and the food pantry. resulted in
It encouraged the generosity of the residents of the area, and Burrow’s fans across the country, and led to the formation of a Hunger Relief Fund named after an Athens high school alumnus.
Karin Bright, president of Food Pantry, said Burrow’s Heisman Award win had such an impact on the organization that neither the foundation that was set up shortly after, nor her legendary acceptance speech, was still a reality for her.
Over the span of 31 seconds, Burrow’s comments about the community and its food-insecurity plight have benefited Southeast Ohio in ways Bright could never have imagined.
In that speech, Barrow said: Poverty rates are almost double the national average. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have a lot of food and I’m here for all the kids in Athens and Athens County….’ In the area where he grew up and played high school football about food insecurity in
“If someone had told me that speech would provoke this kind of reaction, I wouldn’t have believed them. It was magical,” Bright said.
But the sheer generosity that the speech inspired contained no magic.
After Burrow was named the best college football player of 2019, the amount of money poured in following his 2019 acceptance speech made Bright and members of the Food Pantry board of directors think.
Following the speech, “There have been several (more than 30) fundraising efforts that have been started on Facebook,” Bright said. “Athens High School graduate Will Drabold, who had a goal of raising $1,000, ended up raising well over $500,000 in donations.”
Bright said that in response to Barrow-inspired donations, the Pantry Board had many strategic discussions about how to better serve current customers and provide effective food to other people in need. Burrow’s eponymous fund was the result of those discussions and conversations. With a portion of the donated funds, the Board established a fund at the Appalachian Ohio Foundation.
“After the speech, we wanted to create a fund and use his name. But we knew he was doing it well and his family was doing it well.” I wanted to make sure.”
After getting consent from Joe and his family, the donation took off. The fund, now valued at $1.6 million, will help end food insecurity in Southeast Ohio and Appalachia.
“It’s grown in so many ways,” Bright said, explaining that he’s received many personal donations from fans and followers, as well as donations from corporate sponsors.
The Hunger Relief Fund supports the operation of food pantries dedicated to providing supplemental and emergency food aid to residents of Athens County in need.
As a testament to how much the foundation has grown, the foundation recently awarded its first grant, providing $10,000 to the Meigs County School-Based Food Pantry. This was paid “ahead of schedule” due to the generosity of Burrow’s many loyal fans.
Bright describes some of the fundraising campaigns as “quirky” but critical to the foundation’s success.
When Burrow was injured and missed the rest of the 2020 season and was hit low while throwing a pass in Week 11, Bright said donations of $9 began pouring in to honor his number. I was.
Similarly, when the Bengals advanced to Super Bowl LVI in February, donations in that Roman numeral amount began to appear. She said some have even combined the jersey numbers of Burrow and star wide receiver Jamer Chase (No. 1) when funding the fund.
“Those small donations really add up,” said Bright.
The Endowment Fund also saw a surge in donations following last winter’s Bengals AFC Championship victory and hosting of the Super Bowl.
All of these donations help fulfill the Pantry and Relief Fund’s mission.
The generosity of southeastern Ohio residents cannot be overlooked by either Bright or Barrow’s mother, Robin.
In an interview with Messenger, Robin feels that his son’s compassion for people facing food insecurity problems comes from his church and his upbringing.
“I wouldn’t say I specifically encouraged community service, but I wanted him to be exposed to the needs of different people,” she said. “His Heisman speech was an organized way of honoring where he came from. I think he wanted to call attention to the needs of southeastern Ohio.”
Robin said she and her family are “especially grateful for the support from Athens,” and it’s almost surreal to see where her son is now.
“It was wonderful to see,” she said of a recent Sports Illustrated cover story about her son. It’s insane to think.
For the man who lent his name to the Foundation, nothing makes him happier than to be associated with a cause so close and dear to his heart.
“They approached me and asked if they could be named after me,” Burrow told Messenger in an exclusive interview last week. Collected, and I’m very proud of it.”
Barrow said he was surprised to hear from Food Pantry after his acceptance speech, but said he liked the idea and was “very excited to be able to help.”
“Having had this platform for the last few years, I thought I would help a lot of people.”
Speaking about the speech that resonated with fans not only in Athens but across the country, Barrow admitted it was all pretty spontaneous.
“I didn’t write the speech. It was just heartfelt. I wanted to talk about home.”
No one knows more about Burrow’s impact on the community than Bright. She noted that his success on the field turned his once AHS standout into a civic-minded and influential leader outside the ballpark as well.
Bright directly attributes Burrow’s speech to the tremendous amount of money raised in a relatively short period of time.
“He’s a very popular person. Of course, we know that and we’re very honored not only to work together, but to be recognized for our work,” she said. I got
“He took the Bengals to places that perhaps no one had thought of. Bright joked that the donations and recognition that have come to the organization through his name and role model status are troubling. I feel honored to be able to help people.
“Everyone benefits from what we’re trying to do. Everything works in tandem,” says Bright.
Bright said the food pantry has no paid staff, but all volunteers are dedicated to alleviating the problem of food insecurity in southeastern Ohio. I know, and I never take my job for granted.
“It’s a big responsibility that we all take seriously. I want to salute everyone who donated,” she said.
With the Bengals’ 2022 NFL season just one day away, Bright expects her and her volunteers to be very busy again. Because she will serve the hungry in her community through the increase in donations she anticipates.
It’s a job she eagerly awaits, and I’m grateful for it.