Skip to main content

Burrow Follows Through On First Throw With Hunger Fund

Joe Burrow put his Heisman speech in motion Thursday.
Joe Burrow put his Heisman speech in motion Thursday.

The 32 seconds that rocked a region late last year has turned into what Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow hopes is an endless string of years that keeps giving when on Thursday he unveiled the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund at the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio.

Burrow, who grew up about 150 minutes from Paul Brown Stadium straight down Ohio Route 32 amid the economic challenges of Athens, Ohio, delivered a clarion call to help defeat hunger and poverty during last December's emotional Heisman Trophy acceptance speech.

"Coming from southeast Ohio it's a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average," Burrow said during those 32 seconds that night he made Athens cry and the nation nod. "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."

Those words inspired Will Drabold the next morning to post a Facebook fundraiser for the Athens County Food Pantry in Burrow's honor. A total of $650,000 later, a legend was born.

Drabold, 25, an Athens High School grad who stayed home to help make changes as a political consultant, still sounded amazed on the first day of a foundation focused on growing Appalachia's financial roots.

"Delivering long term to fight for what Joe talked about. Doing something meaningful with that," Drabold said Thursday. "I was in the background, but I couldn't be happier with how it turned out. To have a permanent stream of thousands of dollars a year to fight hunger in the region out of a Facebook post?"

Burrow's fund is a double team with the Athens pantry his speech turned into an economic monster and the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio (FOA), a regional community foundation serving the 32 counties of the region. Both organizations are pitching in $350,000 each, a huge number for the all-volunteer pantry that pre-Joe had an operating expense of $75,000. FOA got the stake from the state of Ohio to help build endowments through Appalachia.

"The investment from the state is a recognition of the fact that in our region in Appalachia there are nine times fewer philanthropic dollars," said Megan Wanczyk, FOA's vice president of communications and projects. "The Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund is now going to have a really lasting and long-term impact for those dollars. But I think just as important is the way he really inspired the children of the region."

Burrow, the overall No. 1 pick in the draft, has gone pretty much radio silent since he got the call from head coach Zac Taylor. But not for much longer. No date has been set for the Bengals rookies to report, but it could be as soon as July 19 when he officially takes over the franchise.

Drabold and Wanczyk know what it means to have Burrow right down the road. Eleven of Appalachia's counties are in the Bengals' backyard of southern Ohio, sweeping from Hocking through neighboring Clermont County.

"It's really special for the fund and pantry for the next chapter of this story that Joe will be with the Bengals in Cincinnati," Wanczyk said. "The whole idea behind the endowment of these dollars is it will be there to continue supporting the pantry's mission long-term because food and security is a large and long-term issue."

And even though Burrow has yet to take a practice snap as the Bengals franchise quarterback, on Thursday it looked like he was already gazing down field at the long game.

"I think it's important (the fund includes) southeast Ohio," said Drabold of a speech still resonating. "That's staying true to Joe's words about the needs of the region."