When it comes to running a nonprofit, there is no way to avoid the discussion of how to make the mission happen. Hard work is one thing, but resources are another.
However, for the Scarecrow Foundation, one of the foundational guiding principles from the beginning was to not raise money for themselves. It would be entirely volunteer-driven with no budget. So far, so good.
“Scarecrow Foundation started over ten years ago. There were a number of us, all volunteers, and we were working with a local food pantry and loved it. We decided to help more,” says Executive Director Jimmy Buckner. “The reality is that pantries are doing a great job, but they’re all a little different. Most need two things - more volunteers and more money to buy food. So, we made a deliberate decision not to raise money for ourselves so all of our proceeds would go to pantries we supported.”
For more than a decade, the organization - named Scarecrow as a nod to the stuffed character’s role as the “Protector of the Crops” - has maintained that strategy while growing in numbers each year. They organize events, such as Derby Week, Bash Bama, and Gator Hator, all designed to pool people and resources while bringing awareness to a painfully constant problem not only in Knoxville but around the country - hunger.
“The reason why we picked hunger is just from personal experience. I helped Fish Hospitality Pantries as a basic volunteer, delivering food twice a month for seven years. I’d take food into people’s homes, apartments, hotels, people on the run, people who’d lost their jobs,” says Jimmy, “and being from Florida and moving here, it blew my mind how many people struggled to feed their families. Harry Wade invited me to join his leadership team, so we started doing events to help Fish. We raised over $800,000 to help build a new facility, redo the website, and create food storage. It was from that experience with Harry Wade that we decided to help other pantries. That’s why Scarecrow exists.”
The ultimate goal is to become a national organization, not just a local one, but it’s a process that cannot be rushed. Instead, the key was to discern the best avenue for raising money and recruiting volunteers and do it in a way that was both sustainable and gave room for steady growth. For the Scarecrow Foundation, they decided to focus on “entertainment with a purpose.”
Derrick Furlow Jr. was a rising senior and football player at UT in 2009 when he approached Jimmy, who ran a restaurant in Market Square at the time, about hosting an Orange and White party. Jimmy agreed, as long as a portion of the proceeds went to The Love Kitchen. Derrick agreed.
“A lot more people showed up, so it was entertainment with a purpose. I realized we had a sports stage to impact people for a better cause,” says Derrick. “The idea of a nonprofit and how that worked was foreign to me. But after that, I saw the opportunity as a young college student to network and give back and build relationships over time.”
By 2013, the Scarecrow Foundation was well underway, and some of its founding members moved onto other projects, leaving a spot open for a new board member.
“Through Jimmy’s craftiness, he kept me under his wing. Vols and Gators can get along,” Derrick says, laughing.
Derrick participated in a class dedicated to helping nonprofits with critical thinking and decision making at the Haslam College of Business. Upon completion, Jimmy asked Derrick to serve as Chairman of the Board at Scarecrow as well as spearhead the forming xHunger Movement.
At its core, xHunger is a collection of city and school clubs run by volunteers who are focused on fighting hunger in their communities. Students and citizens take action through the L.U.V.S. Program, which stands for Locate a Food Pantry, Understand Their Purpose, then Volunteer and Support. It’s a simple, effective process that can be duplicated in every American school, city, and state.
The program is specifically helpful to students in need of volunteer hours, which are required to qualify for the Tennessee Promise scholarship. The Scarecrow Foundation, by way of the xHunger program, functions as the middleman to connect those dots.
“First thing, come to an xHunger Tour event. Sign up there. Go to xHunger.com and join a school or city club. Fill out your details. Become the leader or find a staff supporter. Find some friends who will help you locate a food pantry and see what their needs are,” says Derrick. “When it’s all said and done, the pantry coordinator keeps the hours and submits them to Tennessee Promise.”
“We help the helpers,” adds Derrick.
Joining a city club costs $20 for adults, but that buys the t-shirt they can wear when going to local food pantries to volunteer. When it comes to operational costs, the board is always looking for folks who are willing and able to donate their services with an eye on the big picture and larger goal.
“We’re all about relationships. How we found our t-shirt vendor was through a media relationship. He runs the Second Bell Music Festival. When you buy a shirt, there’s a margin there to cover the cost of the shirt, and the rest comes back to the treasure chest that gets donated to a food pantry,” says Jimmy. “We’re so young -- hopefully we’ll look back and cherish these moments. It takes a while for the train to leave the station. We aren’t in a hurry, but we recognize that we’ve grabbed the tiger by the tail.”
Since everyone brings his or her skill sets to the table, it means that everything from the website to the prizes donated for an end-of-the-academic-year bash - such as a new car from Beatty Chevrolet, a getaway to Sea Island on the Georgia coast, a staycation at Downtown211, and a race package to Lexington - have all been generously donated by those who’ve partnered with Scarecrow’s mission to fight hunger.
“Our focus is about greater Knoxville, but it’s starting to become Greater Tennessee and this region. Our strategy was that xHunger mirror the school year with the tour going from September to April. We respect all of the variables with COVID-19, but hunger has gotten bigger than before. So what do we do? It’s a choice,” says Jimmy. “We can either sit on our hands or sit down with Beatty Chevrolet. We had a nice crowd for Derby Day and had 11 people join. Not only can people join at every event, but they can also register for free for more than 10 grand prizes.”
With more than 80 events on the calendar, the xHunger team and Scarecrow board of directors have had to adapt their original plans to fit within social and physical distancing parameters laid out by the city and health department. Whether it’s a Free to Play Poker game at one of the 14 bars and restaurants in town, or a Pro-Vols game day event, every effort is geared towards gathering more volunteers for local food pantries and funneling donations their way.
“It’s the most important thing to help fight hunger,” says Jimmy.
To get involved, learn more at ScarecrowFoundation.org and xHunger.com.