On Thursday, the Athens County Food Pantry and Foundation for Appalachian Ohio announced the creation of the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund that will serve the region. Between the pantry's donation and a dollar-for-dollar match from the FAO, the fund held $700,000 as of Thursday afternoon.
"I'm so grateful for the outpouring of support from people across the country around the food insecurity issues faced by those in my region," Burrow said in a release. "The initial funds that were raised have had an immediate impact for people throughout Athens County, and I am honored to lend my support and voice to this new initiative that will ensure that impact lasts long into the future."
When Burrow won the Heisman Trophy in December 2019, he mentioned the issue of hunger in Athens County, where he spent the majority of his childhood. A fundraiser sparked by Burrow's comments elicited roughly $650,000 in donations.
Karin Bright, president of the Athens County Food Pantry, said once donations started to pour in, the organization wanted to not only address immediate needs but also look at any long-term impact that could be made. That sparked the idea for the endowment that was announced Thursday.
"It sends a very clear message that as a food pantry, we really are looking at things in a long-term way and we are looking at supporting this region," Bright said.
According to a report released by the Ohio Development Services Agency in January 2019, Athens County had a poverty rate of 30.2%, which was the highest of any county in Ohio and doubled the statewide average. Per the Athens County Food Pantry, an estimated 12,900 people in the county -- nearly one in five people -- were food insecure before the spread of coronavirus.
In establishing the relief fund named after Burrow, Bright said there was a significant amount of discussion with Burrow's parents, Jimmy and Robin, throughout the process that culminated with Thursday's announcement.
Cara Dingus Brook, the president of the FAO, said the fund named after Burrow will help provide the level of support required to creating lasting change when it comes to food insecurity in the region. Brook said naming the fund after Burrow was "a fitting thing to do" because of the impact Burrow has made throughout the community.
"It has been a shot in the arm for everybody here," Brook said. "So often in an area that has suffered from persistent poverty, with it can come a culture of diminished expectations.
"And so to see this success and this success to say to everybody else, 'You can do it, too,' it just totally embodies everything we as a foundation believe is going to lead our region forward and help solve some of these really generational issues, whether it's economic issues or food insecurity."
The new fund named after Burrow will be operated by the FAO and help the Athens County Food Pantry continue its efforts throughout Southeast Ohio.
"Being able to create this endowment is just another incredible way we're going to be able to continue our work and support our region," Bright said.