Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund Will Benefit Families In Southeast Ohio

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Joe Burrow is partnering with The Athens County Food Pantry (ACFP) and the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio (FAO) in support of the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund to fight food insecurity in southeast Ohio. Food insecurity is described as the inability to access sufficient and nutritious food on a regular basis.

According to a 2018 Feeding America study, Athens County leads the state in food insecurity.

College football quarterback for LSU stands at podium to give speech after winning 2019 Heisman Trophy
Joe Burrow accepting the 2019 Heisman Trophy

The Athens High School alum’s mention of the issue during his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech helped raise thousands of dollars for the Athens County Food Pantry.

“We had to decide how to use those funds,” Karen Bright, President of the Athens County Food Pantry, said. “So as a board we decided we will take $350 thousand dollars of those funds and put them in an endowment. And that money was matched by the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio through money from the Ohio state budget.”

The goal was to create a way for that money to have a lasting impact in the area.

“It gives us additional options to do work in the community and the whole area in terms of food insecurity and hunger issues,” Bright said.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt from the Ohio Association of Foodbanks says this new relief fund is critical, especially now because the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a historic demand.

“Forty per cent of people that are now seeking emergency food had never had to ask for help before,” she said.

More people are turning to food banks, food pantries and food kitchens during this time, according to Hamler-Fugitt. And that has resulted in “food insecurity and poverty rates across the state to more than double because of job losses, the collapse of the economy and the delays in people getting unemployment.”

Food pantries have also lost half of their regular donations during COVID-19 since industry, food manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers donations have stopped and because local food fund drives dried up due to the pandemic.

“So, Joe Burrow’s fund is more critical than it’s ever been before to help us meet this overwhelming demand,” Hamler-Fugitt said.

Joe Burrow, a Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback won the Heisman Trophy in 2019  during LSU’s national championship season.

During his acceptance speech he talked about the Athens community where he grew up in and brought attention to the poverty and food insecurity he saw his classmates grow up with.

“Coming from southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average. 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,” Burrow said during his emotional speech.

Since then, donations from all over the country outpoured for the Athens County Food Pantry. As of January this year they had raised some $650,600.

In this still image from video provided by the NFL, Athens High alumnus Joe Burrow celebrates being chosen first by the Cincinnati Bengals
In this still image from video provided by the NFL, Athens High alumnus Joe Burrow celebrates being chosen first by the Cincinnati Bengals during the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 23, 2020. [NFL via AP]
The recently announced Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund started with $350,000 from those donations, that were later matched, dollar-for-dollar, by the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio.

Robin Burrow, Joe’s mom, told WOUB News that Joe had always been a very quiet kid but nevertheless very aware of his friends needs; an awareness, she says, that has now grown to a much larger scale.

“We’re very proud of Joe and not only his accomplishments but his ability to use his platform for good for our region and to be actively engage in using that platform to move things forward for southeast Ohio and the Appalachian region.”

Karen Bright says the economic fallout from pandemic is making the fund extremely necessary.

“This is going to be a very long term recovery and that means people are going to need to get help.”

Before the donations, the Athens County Food Pantry was helping an average of four hundred families a month, but now Bright foresees that they will be helping an average of five hundred to six hundred families a month.

Bright says she can’t overstate the importance of Burrow’s attention, “having his voice there, having his presence there I think it’s very important to what we do.”

Hamler-Fugitt says that every kid should aspire to be like Joe Burrow. “He’s a really really great guy. And the spotlight he has brought to the issue of hunger and poverty makes him a real hunger hero.”

More information on the fund can be found here.