On December 14, Heisman winner and Athens native Joe Burrow gave a speech at the 2019 Heisman Trophy ceremony highlighting the food insecurity in Southeast Ohio. One month later, over half a million dollars had been raised for the Athens County Food Pantry through a Facebook fundraiser created by Athens resident, Will Drabold.
After hearing Burrow’s speech, Drabold felt the need to act after the excitement generated by the speech. Drabold created a fundraising page on Facebook for the Athens County Food Pantry. He originally set a goal of $1,000, but within a couple of hours, donated funds surpassed that amount. “I think it’s powerful to focus on how much people identified with what Joe said, who had the means to then give back,” Drabold says.
Donations came pouring in from across the country. Drabold says he doesn’t know exactly where they came from, but he’s sure most of the donations came from Ohio and Louisiana, where quarterback Burrow would lead the Louisiana State University Tigers to the 2020 NCAA Football Championship.
The fundraiser concluded at the end of January with over $510,000 raised. In addition to Drabold’s efforts, other fundraisers were created around Southeast Ohio, including one for The Plains Elementary School, which raised over $4,000.
“I did not think this was going to raise $510,000. It’s incredible to see the community turned out for this and have so many people thank me and everything, but I’m not surprised that it happened,” Drabold says.
In January, the donations began arriving at the food pantry and the organization saw an influx of community members using its resources. In Athens, 400 households are usually served a month, says Karin Bright, the president of the Athens County Food Pantry, but in December, they served about 20% more.
Before this, the organization’s annual budget has been an average of $60,000, according to The Marietta Times. The food pantry is now deciding how to best allocate this tremendous influx of money to fight hunger and food insecurity.
Burrow’s speech hasn’t only affected Athens. Drabold says it has spurred conversation among local, regional and state leaders about how to address the issue in Southeast Ohio.
While Burrow focused on the NFL draft, where he was drafted first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, his parents Robin, a principal at Eastern Elementary School in Meigs County, and Jimmy, the former defensive coordinator for Ohio Football at Ohio University, continued raising money. Since Joe’s speech, the family has created the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund through the Athens County Foundation in order to help other counties in Southeast Ohio.
“31 seconds of Joe’s speech was devoted to [raising money], and I guess the lesson is powerful words spoken from somebody that’s an influential person can make a big difference,” Jimmy says.