Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was the trigger for an unexpected playoff that revitalized long-suffering Cincinnati fans, resurrecting old touches like the Ickey Shuffle and “Who Dey” chants and giving this season’s Super Bowl a rare true underdog story.
But in Borough’s hometown of Athens, Ohio, the ascent may have a lasting effect.
Running the Super Bowl in Bengals has been a boon for the Athens County food pantry, which was transformed by the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund. The fund has helped raise more than $1.5 million to help feed those struggling in southeastern Ohio, the state’s poorest area.
“It talks a lot about people getting the message,” said Karen Bright, head of the Athens County pantry. “They may not have realized the depth of the problem, but it has had such an impact on awareness of food insecurity in this region.”
More than $53,000 came in during the first week after the Bengals beat Kansas City in the AFC title match. Many of those donations were for $9 (Burrow’s consolidated number), $31 (the number of years between the Bengals’ appearances in the Super Bowl) or $56 (this is the 56th version of the game). Some of them were hundreds and thousands of dollars.
The impetus for giving goes back a little over two years when Burrow, In his 2019 speech after winning the Heisman Cupan eloquent emotional nod to those struggling in the area in which he grew up.
Although he grew up in relative privilege – the son of a college football coach and an elementary school principal – Borough saw the poverty around him, which was evident in the trailers at the bottom of the hill next to his high school.
“I am here for all those children in Athens and the county of Athens who go home not have much food on the table, and are hungry after school,” Burrow said in his speech at Heisman, choking as he spoke. “You guys can be here too.”
Within weeks, an online fundraising account brought in more than $500,000. Soon after the Bengals drafted Burrow with their top pick in 2020, he agreed to lend his name to the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund. Bright said that through a partnership with Appalachian Ohio, a charitable organization in the area, the giveaway is helping to transform the mission of the pantry.
The annual budget for the food pantry was $80,000 prior to Borough’s speech, the money was largely going to grocery bags that would be distributed three days a week from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If food ran out, people were asked to return on the next distribution day.
“Now, we’re not out,” Bright said. “We don’t tell people, ‘Sorry, come back next week.'” “
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