Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hunters for the Hungry (Tennessee Wildlife Federation)

“Local Hunters Harvesting Local Deer to Feed Local People.”
That’s a motto of Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s program called Hunters for the Hungry.

Basically, Hunters for the Hungry provides a means for hunters to safely donate venison to charitable organizations that feed food insecure Americans.

According to National Rifle Association figures, there are Hunters for the Hungry, or similar organizations, in at least 44 states, with a total national yield for the 2009-2010 season of 2,603,263 pounds of Deer, Elk, Antelope, Moose, Pheasants and Waterfowl meat.

Matt Simcox and Chad Whittenburg

For an inside look at how a Hunters for the Hungry organization operates and what makes it successful, we visited the Tennessee Wildlife Federation offices in Nashville, TN. We met Director of Outreach Chad Whittenburg and Outreach Coordinator Matt Simcox.

Hunters for the Hungry was started in 1995 as a program of the state Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.  In 1998, it moved to the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, which is a state-wide nonprofit conservation organization. Chad coordinated the program from 2005 to 2008, when Matt was hired to coordinate it. Under their leadership, Hunters for the Hungry has grown steadily. In the 2009-2010 season, Tennessee hunters donated over 100,000 pounds of venison, enough for over 400,000 servings! 

How does it work? Local chapters of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation and generous deer processors are key.
  • Hunters for the Hungry recruits certified deer processors to participate in the program. Each processor agrees to process a donated deer for $40 (much less than the usual rate). This year, 71 processors signed up, one or more in 55 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
  • Hunters abide by all state regulations, property permits, season dates, and bag limits.
  • Local chapters of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation raise funds for Hunters for the Hungry. Those funds are used by their local processor to pay the processing fees for deer donated to Hunters for the Hungry. Once those funds run out, hunters may still donate a deer, but pay the $40 themselves.
  • Hunters may also donate a portion of the meat from a deer they’re having processed for their own use. This method accounts for about 1/3 of the venison donated to Hunters for the Hungry.
  • Each processor has a freezer dedicated to Hunters for the Hungry. Once the freezer is full, or when the locally-designated soup kitchen or pantry needs meat, a volunteer comes and transfers the frozen venison to the kitchen or pantry where it will be used to feed hungry people.
We visited Flowers’ Deer Processing, one of the first to join Hunters for the Hungry. We spoke with Jim Flowers, shown here with a chub of ground venison, the preferred packaging because it’s the easiest and most versatile for cooks to prepare.

Enough funds have been raised in this county to cover the processing of 119 deer. As this board shows, even though the hunting season was only open to bow hunters so far, 13 deer had already been donated. Flowers contributes even more to Hunters for the Hungry because they request that everyone who has a deer processed here donate at least one chub to the program.

We think that Hunters for the Hungry is a good program on many levels.

First, everyone has a role to play in alleviating hunger. This program encourages hunters, deer processors, and local wildlife federation members to directly help hunger relief organizations in their communities. Meat is expensive, and without venison, these pantries and feeding programs would need to find other ways to purchase it for their clients.

Second, harvesting deer beyond what individual hunters need to feed their own families helps to manage the burgeoning deer population.  There is general agreement among conservationists, foresters, and wildlife management professionals that in the United States, deer herds have become dangerously large, damaging our forests and negatively impacting cultivated areas and crops because there are more deer than the land can healthily sustain.

Deer also are increasingly causing damage to vehicles and themselves on roads. According to State Farm Insurance, car collisions with deer have increased 21% in the last 5 years.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, hungry folks receive high-quality, lean meat, better than can be purchased in a store. Wild venison is delicious and nutritious.  It is natural, free of artificial hormones, and lower in fat and calories than beef and pork.  Nothing second-rate here! Hunters for the Hungry provides meat for food-insecure people that is higher quality than what most Americans eat.

Hunters for the Hungry is a win-win-win program.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you were able to get good information and an actual visit to a processing center. You and Marilyn are intrepid researchers!