NORMAN — Josh Heupel hadn't yet become a national champion — or even been mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate — when he began working to make a difference in the lives of Oklahomans.
He'd lived in the state mere months when the first-year Sooner quarterback, along with some teammates, went to local elementary schools each week to read books to youngsters.
“As he did that, he really saw the need and the circumstances of a lot of the kids there,” said his wife, Dawn Heupel.
The junior quarterback talked about what he'd seen with Mike Whitson, who was the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' local director at the time, and the two hatched a plan: They'd ask Sooner fans to bring nonperishable food items to an OU game to help provide holiday meals to needy families.
The next year, the food drive was expanded, with many supporters donating cash. After providing meals, Josh and Dawn took the leftover money and purchased Christmas gifts for about 12 families.
Pretty soon, the 14 Foundation — named after Heupel's jersey number while at OU — was established; it continues on with Saturday's annual holiday food drive before the Sooners' 2:30 p.m. home game against Baylor. Fans can make cash donations at the stadium gates.
“Had a lot of support from a lot of people, and this is an opportunity for me to give back,” Josh Heupel said.
“It's the people of Oklahoma giving back to the people of Oklahoma. ... Ultimately we're trying to impact our state in a positive way one kid at a time.”
The 14 Foundation works with state elementary school counselors, who identify families in need of help during the holiday season. Cash donated to Heupel's foundation is given to the food bank, which puts together meals and sends them to Norman.
Norman families are invited to the Barry Switzer Center to collect their food; FCA volunteers deliver meals to families in other parts of the state.
“It's such a need in this community and across the state, especially on those few days when kids are out of school and they don't get to have breakfast and lunch at school,” Dawn Heupel said. “That's really what makes it so meaningful to families.”
Since the drive's inception, more than 130,000 meals have been served. This year, an expected 30,000 meals will be provided in at least 10 communities around the state.