Donations to the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund have been 'astronomical'

Bengals Chiefs Football
Posted at 11:18 AM, Feb 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-07 12:14:59-05

MILLFIELD, Ohio — The Cincinnati Bengals' Super Bowl berth is having a significant impact on efforts to fight hunger in southeast Ohio where quarterback Joe Burrow played high school football.

Financial donations have poured into the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fundwhich supports the operations of the Athens County Food Pantry.

The fund has received 1,272 gifts totaling $89,571 since the the AFC Championship game Jan. 30, according to Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, which manages the fund's $1.5 million endowment.

On Monday morning, Kroger announced it would donate $33,000 each to the fund and the Sam Hubbard Foundation in recognition of 33 years since the Bengals' most recent Super Bowl appearance prior to this week.

Athens County has struggled with a 20.4% rate of food insecurity or 1 in 5 people, according to Athens County Food Pantry president Karin Bright. The food pantry helps up to 400 families per month.

"The last two weeks contributions have gone up astronomically," Bright said. "We're very, very grateful for all that support that we've been given."

The donations to the fund are varied in dollar amounts and the money isn't just from Bengals fans since late January.

"We even had some (Buffalo) Bills fans donate because they were so happy to see the Chiefs lose and their season end," said Matt Kaido, director of strategic initiatives for the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio. "They were actually selecting this donation in memory of the Chiefs' season."

The grassroots campaign has seen a majority of the gifts (more than 330) at $9 in tribute to Burrow's jersey number.

There have been more than 100 gifts at $31 (marking the number of years since the Bengals' previous playoff win) and dozens of gifts at $56 (the number of Super Bowl games).

There have also been dozens of gifts at $17 (Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen's jersey number) and at $40 (combining Burrow's jersey number and 31 years).

"The monies are coming in fast and furious and we are extremely grateful to all of the people," Bright said. "We're calling it 'Who Dey Nation' now supporting the hunger relief fund and know it's because Joe graciously allowed us to use his name when we named that fund."

Burrow, a 2015 Athens High School graduate, brought national attention to food insecurity in Athens County during his Heisman Trophy speech in December 2019.

"Coming from southeast Ohio it's a very, very impoverished area," Burrow said at the time. "The poverty rate is almost two times the national average and there is so many people there that don't have a lot. And I'm up here for all those kids in Athens and in Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table."

The speech resonated so much that $650,600 was raised for the food pantry from over 13,000 people across the country by the end of January 2020.

The food pantry used $350,000 of those donated funds to start the endowment in April of 2020. The food pantry had an operating annual budget of approximately $75,000 prior to the Burrow's Heisman speech.

"As (Burrow) said, he was up there for all the kids in Athens and Athens County," Kaido said. "That created kind of this groundswell of support."

The Athens County Food Pantry serves up to 400 families per month. The pantry has been aided by the financial assistance of donations to the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund since 2020.

There is no telling where the upward trend of financial support could go if the Bengals win their first Super Bowl title with Burrow in the spotlight.

The Athens County Food Pantry and Foundation for Appalachian Ohio said the financial support due to the Bengals' Super Bowl run allows for continued support of projects to help residents.

"Often times Appalachian Ohio is negatively stereotyped and we do as much as we can at the foundation to share the uplifting stories, so much of the good that's happening in the region," Kaido said. "Nothing embodies that more than Joe Burrow and his achievements on and off the field."

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