As he accepted the coveted Heisman trophy, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow addressed the children in his hometown of Athens, Ohio, where thousands of residents live in poverty.
Burrow struggled to speak, holding back tears as he spoke about the children in his community who go hungry.
“Coming from southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average,” he said in his acceptance speech Saturday. “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.”
In a matter of hours, the unassuming Appalachian town — home to Ohio University — was launched to national attention, inspiring Athens resident Will Drabold to create a fundraiser for the thousands of residents living under the poverty line.
In just a day, the fundraiser was inundated with donations and quickly shot past its original $50,000 goal. The organizer later updated the goal to $100,000, which was met within hours. The goal had reached $400,000 by Tuesday afternoon.
As of 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday, more than $370,000 had been raised.
“Let’s answer Joey’s call to action by supporting a local nonprofit that serves food to more than 5,000 households in Athens County each year,” the fundraiser page says.
The nonprofit that puts food on Athens County tables
The donations will go to the Athens County Food Pantry, which says it serves over 3,400 meals a week to residents in need.
The pantry also gives bags and boxes of food to Athens families, including non-perishables such as pasta, beans, and canned vegetables, and it hands out fresh produce when it can.
About 30% of the county’s population lives below the poverty line, according to an Ohio poverty report released in February. It is among the poorest counties in the state, all of which are in the Appalachian region.
The nonprofit has identified a number of factors leading to such a high poverty rate, including unemployment and underemployment, lack of reliable transportation and high housing and utility costs.
The pantry said it was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support following Burrow’s speech.
“Many, many thanks to Joe Burrow for shining a light on food insecurity in our area and a very heartfelt thank you to everyone that has donated,” it said in a Facebook post.
Later in the day, Drabold wrote the athlete inspired children in the region.
“Some of these kids don’t get toys for Christmas. Some get their food from the food pantry. You cannot beat the power of role models and inspiration in their lives. None of these kids, who are in the same classrooms Joey was, will ever forget this.”