Growing up in suburban Atlanta, Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie saw the effects of hunger firsthand when accompanying his father Pius, a pastor, on trips to parts of the city serving those in need.
Those lessons have resonated in recent months as Okogie, while in Minneapolis for an extended period without playing basketball, has been a steady presence in the community during a time of increased need brought on by both the COVID-19 pandemic and unrest related to the fight for social justice.
"The number one thing on my mind and what I see in the community is people need help," Okogie said. "I feel like with the resources that we have not only as players, but infrastructure and teams, I feel like we should be able to help these people. Obviously we can't fix the problem on our own. We're going to need more help. But we should start somewhere. We have enough resources to be able to make a difference and I feel like that's what we should do."
That perspective made Okogie a natural participant in an ambitious venture launched Wednesday involving all the major local professional sports teams in town, Gophers athletics and multiple media outlets.
The initiative, called "Home Teams vs. Hunger" is a weeklong campaign designed to raise awareness of and money to combat the increasing problem of hunger. Proceeds from fundraising mechanisms, including a live auction, will benefit Second Harvest Heartland and five other Feeding America food banks serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Fox Sports North, which is spearheading much of the collaborative effort, is debuting a 30-minute show about the ongoing effort immediately after Friday night's Twins game.
Okogie is one of 21 athletes, coaches or executives from the Wolves, Lynx, Vikings, Twins, Wild, United and Gophers participating as official team spokespeople.
As Okogie said, a weeklong campaign won't wipe out hunger on its own. But it comes at a particularly important time, said Allison O'Toole, the CEO of Second Harvest Heartland.
Data is showing a surge in hunger and food needs not seen since the Great Depression, she said. Second Harvest Heartland is distributing 50% more food than it did at this time last year and even 25% more than it did in July, the month during which $600 in additional weekly federal unemployment benefits expired.
And about 40% of families asking for assistance are doing so for the first time, she added, showing the scope of the economic damage and food need.
"We are so humbled by the gesture. I always say there's so much we can't control right now during this pandemic, but what we can control is how we show up for one another and how we show up for this community," O'Toole said. "And all of these teams … are showing up for this community unlike anybody ever before."
One in eight Minnesotans doesn't know where their next meal is coming from, including one in five kids. Those are sobering numbers at any moment, let alone in the midst of a pandemic.
"That's a big number if you think about all those people that need help," Okogie said "I'm appreciative that they're doing something to help and I'm all open arms if they need my help. We have to get that number down by all means necessary."