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Southeast Ohio is a region that doesn't usually attract much attention, but that changed on Saturday. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow used his acceptance speech to highlight the struggles that many people face in his hometown. NPR's Laurel Wamsley reports.
LAUREL WAMSLEY, BYLINE: When LSU quarterback Joe Burrow took the stage to accept the Heisman, lots of folks back home in Ohio were hanging on his every word.
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JOE BURROW: Coming from southeast Ohio, it's a very impoverished area, and there's so many people there that don't have a lot. And I'm up here for all of those kids in Athens and in Athens County that, you know, go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too.
WAMSLEY: One of the people watching was Will Drabold, who was a senior at Athens High School when Burrow was a freshman there.
WILL DRABOLD: When he started his sentence about southeastern Ohio, I sort of, like, jumped up, walked up to the TV and said, wow, wow, wow, because I had never seen anyone bring attention to the region as he did.
WAMSLEY: Drabold knew just what to do. He created a Facebook fundraising page where donations would go directly to the Athens County Food Pantry. Contributions poured in.
DRABOLD: For Joey to say I'm up here for the kids who go home and don't have a lot of food on the table who are hungry, it just - it shot a lightning bolt through the whole region and the people that live there.
WAMSLEY: More than $370,000 has been raised for the food pantry since Sunday from more than 10,000 donors. And while many of the donations were from Ohio, plenty came from LSU fans in Louisiana.
KARIN BRIGHT: My daughter just took a phone call on the pantry phone, and the person donated and said, thank you for Joe from Louisiana.
WAMSLEY: That's Karin Bright, president of the Athens County Food Pantry.
BRIGHT: Hunger is a real problem in our county. We don't have much in the way of industry here, so people are struggling. And they do their best, but it's really, really challenging here.
WAMSLEY: She says the donations since Burrow's speech are more than the food pantry usually gets in a year in a county where 20% of people face food insecurity. And the shoutout to southeast Ohio has inspired more than donations, says Drabold. His wife is a teacher at a local elementary school. Yesterday, the kids watched Burrow's speech and learned about the donations people were making.
DRABOLD: One of my wife's students came up to her and said, I get my food at the food pantry. She said that beaming.
WAMSLEY: With donations still coming in from Ohio, Louisiana and beyond, that lightning bolt of a speech could spark a brighter future for a generation.
Laurel Wamsley, NPR News.
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