After winning the Heisman Trophy in historic fashion, Louisiana State University (LSU) quarterback Joe Burrow thanked numerous people, from teammates to coaches to family, getting emotional several times in his speech that lasted roughly seven minutes during the ceremony on Dec. 14. About half way through, Burrow briefly referenced his hometown of Athens, Ohio:
“Coming from southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area. The poverty rate is almost two times the national average, and there’s so many people that don’t have a lot. And I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that, you know, go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. And you guys can be up here too.”
Those remarks lasted barely 30 seconds but they were enough to raise almost a half-million dollars within days for the local food pantry. Athens High School and Ohio University graduate Will Drabold created a Facebook Fundraiser the morning after the Heisman ceremony with a $1,000 goal. That goal has been revised multiple times after raising $150,000 within a day and after four days exceeding $400,000 from more than 12,000 people, including donations from Louisiana. As of this morning, 13,313 people have donated $479,365 to the fundraiser.
Drabold designated the fundraiser for the Athens County Food Pantry, which last year raised $100,000, according to its annual federal Form 990 tax form. Barely one day later, the fundraiser surpassed the organization’s total revenue over the past three years combined — $250,000. The fundraiser also has spawned smaller Facebook Fundraisers for neighboring food banks, as well as food banks in the Baton Rouge, La., area. Facebook Fundraisers no longer charge processing fees, however, donors must opt in to share contact information with a nonprofit.
In a message the food pantry staff posted to Facebook on Dec. 16, they thanked Burrow’s supporters and fans. “For the fundraisers inspired by Joe Burrow, 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.”
The organization asked for patience from those trying to contact it since it’s been swamped by many messages and phone calls. In its statement on Facebook, the food pantry said Athens County faces many challenges, among them poverty and hunger. Athens County is the poorest in the state and the food insecurity rate of 20 percent is the highest in the area and likely in the state. “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,” the organization said, serving 400 families in November.
Burrow, who transferred from The Ohio State University two years ago, won the Heisman as college football’s best player by a record margin. He also set new marks for percentage of points available received and percentage of all ballots in Heisman voting. Burrow will next play on Saturday when No. 1 LSU takes on No. 4 Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.