X Hunger’s Gator Hator Week 2023

“Hate” is a strong word. Like “love,” we throw it around for all sorts of things. I hate watermelon. I hate being around angry people. I hate war, poverty, and hunger. Does the word mean the same thing in all instances? What about the Gators? Lots of Vol fans love to hate those guys (to use both abused words in one sentence). Hopefully sports fans mean the word in a light sense like a good rivalry should be.

For nineteen years Gator Hator Week, sponsored by X Hunger,  has been a thing during the annual University of Tennessee and University of Florida football week. The misspelling of “Hator” is a tipoff that the event is intended to be in good fun. It might surprise UT fans to learn that Jimmy Buckner, organizer of the event is a . . . wait for it . . . University of Florida graduate. You also might not realize that while the events are fun, the intent is dead serious: to end hunger. If he can impact hunger, Buckner insists, the rest doesn’t really matter.

Jimmy founded the Scarecrow organization years ago to sponsor this and other events. The organization has since been subsumed into a larger umbrella organization, also founded by Buckner, called X Hunger. The idea has remained the same: Engage people in fun activities while offering them the opportunity to volunteer for organizations already doing the work to end hunger. Money raised from the activities goes directly to those organizations including, for example, the Love Kitchen, the recipient of money raised from the Gator Hator Week festivities.

Sherry Fetzer and Jimmy Buckner with the Board of Directors of the Love Kitchen, Knoxville, September 2015

The enormous impact is difficult to quantify. For the first years, all donations went directly to the benefiting organizations, for example, so there were no totals to tabulate. The donate tab directed the contributors directly to the charities. Jimmy said, “It was never about us, rather our role has been “we help the helpers.” The late Patrick Riggins (who led the Love Kitchen, now led by his brother) once told the group they had raised over $100,000 for them (and they are one of the twenty groups who have gotten funds.

Money is only one part of the equation, however. A primary focus has been connecting volunteers to the various groups and that has been very successful. Some volunteers to the quiet work, but “one of our volunteers was able to have new kitchen equipment and a new oven donated to The Love Kitchen (worth over $30K) and this particular volunteer helped them negotiate with the city regarding a required grease trap which saved The Love Kitchen at least $10,000.”

The group has always operated on a zero budget, relying on their own set of volunteers to organize and carry out events. They’ve also expanded into high schools and colleges by sponsoring X Hunger clubs that focus on volunteer work for hunger programs. They are now taking donations to eventually fill out a staff making the organization more stable for the long-run. Jimmy said, “I truly enjoy doing all of this stuff and the vast majority of people really don’t realize how much hunger is amongst struggling people (poverty), the homeless, and many walks of life who have a tough time making ends meet.”

Look for a chance to join in the fun this week, if you are so inclined. A number of events feature an element of downtown, through location or those involved (Post Modern is contributing to the Whiskey Dinner). It kicks off with a poker tournament Sunday afternoon at Barrelhouse by Gypsy Circus. The participants have earned their spot in tournaments over the last six weeks and will compete for prizes, including a shot at Vegas WSOP tournament. The Golf Classic on Tuesday has two flights and is filled, but fun to watch.

Be sure to look into the Open House events (like the one at Love Kitchen) to learn more about what these organizations are up to and how you might help. As the game nears, the events include a Happy Hour with Lady Vol Alexis Hornbuckle at Local Smokey on Game Day-Eve (Friday). On gameday, join the group watching the game at Fieldhouse Social.

Whether or not football, poker, golf, or any of the rest of it is your thing, the focus is on stopping hunger. Find a hunger organization (preferably local) that you feel is doing good work and volunteer or donate. It’s rewarding for the volunteer and may be a lifeline for someone you help.