You may have noticed the “Gator Hator Week” ad on the website for the last few weeks. When Jimmy Buckner, head of the Scarecrow Foundation, sent me a query about placing the ad, I asked what part of my UF education and decades-long support of the Florida Gators did he not understand? He laughed and pointed out that he, the force behind the event, is also a UF graduate. We met so I could learn more.
Jimmy is an intense person, speaking so rapidly at times, I generally hang about two sentences behind. He’s particularly intense when discussing the topic of hunger. He repeatedly asks why anyone in America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, should be hungry? His tone makes clear that no answer is acceptable and something must be done. Now.
We worked our way through a couple of cups of coffee before I connected the events of Gator Hator Week and ending hunger. The events include a poker tournament, a golf tournament, a motorcycle ride and a night of comedy among other things. Some of the events carry a cost up front, while others simply request a donation.
How much money does the Scarecrow Foundation make? Nothing. They pay expenses and pass the money on to others who are fighting hunger. In this case, The Love Kitchen will receive every penny beyond expenses to set up the events. How much goes to salaries of Scarecrow employees? There are no Scarecrow employees. It is an entirely volunteer organization, though that may change in coming months as they try to make the organization tighter in order to take on even larger projects.
They will also open a small office at 18 Market Square early next year. Jimmy said the hope there is that having a physical presence will expand their ability to educate and reach out to others on the issue of hunger. It will give them a place to host groups and a platform from which to launch their initiatives. They will expand their board and begin to pursue grants in order to get money into the hands of groups like the Love Kitchen and others.
While Gator Hator Week is eleven years old, Scarecrow has been around for five years as a 501(c)3, focused on helping local groups fighting hunger. Jimmy noted a special appreciation to Kelly Absher who three years ago asked the group to be the host for the annual fundraising event at Club Leconte and then asked them back again this past year. The theme, “Midnight in Savannah,” was hugely successful and it upped their profile. It all goes along with their motto “Entertainment with Purpose,” which has guided their efforts at every event.
The idea started in conversations between Harry Wade (now Chairman of the Board of Scarecrow) and Jimmy, each of whom had been involved in hunger issues around Knoxville for a long time. Jimmy and I talked about our mutual experience of delivering food to people in need via the FISH program locally. The first time I walked into a certain downtown building, for example, it was a flop house, whereas now it is filled with half-million dollar condos. That kind of experience spurred Harry and Jimmy to form Scarecrow to “help more hunger agencies and food pantries.” Jimmy continued, “Knoxville has plenty of organizations, yet all of them both big and small, need more volunteers and resources to help end hunger in our community.”
The first event was Scarecrow Fantasy Football and the fun rolled from there. Relationships with organizations were slowly built, more events were planned and executed. Trust was built. The events centered on supplying more of two things every similar organization needs: money and volunteers. Here the refrain returned: “Because why should anyone be hungry? We’re a great country, right? Why should this most basic need not be met?”
Hip Hop for Hunger followed as have many other events. Scarecrow used Derby Week to support Second Harvest‘s backpack program in which backpacks full of food are sent home with needy students each weekend of the school year. They are now pursuing a working arrangement with Feeding America, the national parent organization of Second Harvest, to further support that program on a national level.
He gets excited when discussing the fact that the Scarecrow model has been included in classes at UT in advertising and business. He wants it in business schools across America. He’d like to see the restaurant industry mobilized nationally to address the problem of hunger in a coordinated way and hopes to be a part of that. And there is more.
For now, there is Gator Hator Week and the chance to have fun while helping to end hunger. The focus this year is to raise $17,000 for a new steam kettle for the Love Kitchen. They need one with fifty-percent greater capacity for the work they do – which includes not only feeding people who come to the kitchen, but providing about 3,000 meals a week delivered to the homes of those who need them most. It’s good work done entirely by volunteers.
So, volunteer to work at the Love Kitchen (it’s about five minutes from Market Square in a car), or make a donation directly to them or to the Scarecrow Foundation. Or simply join in the fun events planned starting this Sunday and throughout the UT/UF game week through the following Sunday. The golf tournament is sold out, and the poker tournament requires a qualifying tournament, but the others are wide open. Pick one to attend. The Love Kitchen will be on hand to sell tickets. Buy one, give them a donation and sign up to volunteer. It’s a Volunteer kind of week, right?
Here’s the full schedule:
Sunday, September 20: 2nd Annual Gator Hator Ride (on motorcycles, that is). Starts at Harley Davidson on Lovell Road at Noon, $20
Sunday, September 20: 1st Annual Gator Hator Pool Tournament, Billiards and Brews, 6:00 PM
Monday, September 21: 11th Annual Gator Hator Golf Classic, Beaver Brook Country Club
Monday, September 21: Gator Hator Trivia, The Rocks Tavern, 7:00 PM
Tuesday, September 22: 3rd Annual Gator Hator Poker Tournament, Downtown Grill & Brewery
Wednesday, September 23: Laughs for Love, Concourse at the International, 8:00 PM, $10
Wednesday, September 23: Late Night Gator Hator Snacks, The Pint House, 11:00 PM
Thursday, September 24: Media and Models Meet and Greet, Lunch at Rooster’s
Thursday, September 24: Gator Hator Party, Cool Beans, 9:00 PM
Friday, September 25: Pre-game Party, Fieldhouse Social, 8:00 PM
Saturday, September 26: Gameday Dunk the Gator, The Alley
Sunday, September 27: Celebration Brunch, Seasons Innovative Bar and Grille