LSU quarterback Joe Burrow spent part of his Heisman Trophy-winning speech Saturday discussing the poverty struggles in his hometown of Athens, Ohio.
The audience responded, donating more than $351,000 to Athens County Food Pantry through a Facebook fundraiser created by Athens resident Will Drabold. The fundraiser was created with a goal of raising $50,000, while it was at $351,405 of its new goal of $400,000 as of 10:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday.
More than 10,000 people had donated through Drabold’s fundraiser for Athens, which is located in southeast Ohio and is the home of Ohio University. The Facebook fundraiser was posted along with a Burrow quote from Saturday’s Heisman ceremony in New York City.
“Coming from southeast Ohio it’s a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average,” said Burrow, a senior who attended Ohio State for three years before transferring to LSU. “There’s so many people there that don’t have a lot and 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. You guys can be up here, too."
The message struck a nerve, leading to a unprecedented level of donations. Karen Bright, an Athens County Food Pantry board member, told The Advocate in Baton Rouge that the previous largest donation in her 10 years was about $20,000.
A February report by the Ohio Development Services Agency said that 30.2 percent of the Athens County population lives in poverty, while the U.S. Census Bureau reported the national average was 11.5 percent in 2018.
Athens County Food Pantry posted a thank you note on its Facebook page Monday evening.
“Athens County faces many challenges. Among them are poverty and hunger. We are the poorest county in the state and our food insecurity rate of 20% is the highest in our area and likely in the state,” the post said. “Low wage jobs and transportation issues add to the problem as well. Our all-volunteer organization has worked for 40 years to address hunger, an issue that continues to plague our community. We served over 400 families last month and those numbers hold steady.
“We are simply overwhelmed by the generosity of so many people! Our board will be having in-depth conversations about the best ways to use these funds. This is very new to us. We have never received an outpouring of financial support of this magnitude. We seek to be careful and deliberate in making these decisions, as the opportunities to further address food insecurity and hunger are numerous and the possibilities are nearly endless.”
Burrow has completed 342 of 439 passes for 4,715 yards and 48 touchdowns this season, leading LSU to a 13-0 record and the top seed in the College Football Playoff. The Tigers will play No. 4 Oklahoma in the semifinals on Dec. 28.