VOL. 131 | NO. 220 | Thursday, November 3, 2016
Deer Hunting Season Brings More Food For Needy Through TWF Program
BY MICHAEL WADDELL, Special to The Daily News
For Melvin Williams, chef at Alpha Omega Veteran’s Services, receiving venison donated by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s Hunters for the Hungry program is a special treat each hunting season.
Matt Simcox, statewide manager of Hunters for the Hungry, says growth in the program has brought unsolicited donations, which are necessary to pay deer processing fees.
(Tennessee Wildlife Federation)
He uses the venison to prepare a variety of savory meals for hungry mouths.
“We get it in once or twice per year here, and when we do, the veterans just love it,” said Williams, who has worked at Alpha Omega the past 12 years preparing daily meals for about 20 veterans. “I can serve it as steaks, combine it with ground beef for burgers or spaghetti, make meatballs or meat loaf, or even combine it with elk or buffalo meat.”
Hunters for the Hungry is making an impact across Tennessee.
In the past several years, the amount of venison taken in by the program has more than doubled, with 144,000 pounds donated to those in need across the state last year. An average deer generates 42 pounds of venison after it has been prepared and packaged.
“One deer will feed 168 meals,” said Matt Simcox, statewide manager of the Hunters for the Hungry program.
Venison is the only wild game that can be legally served and distributed in Tennessee. The low-fat meat has the second-highest amount of protein of all red meats, just behind buffalo.
The TWF added Hunters for the Hungry and the Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target program as boots-on-the-ground methods to engage people in the outdoors, create future conservationists, and combine wildlife management with community services like hunger relief.
After forming in the early 1990s and dying out, Hunters for the Hungry was relaunched in 1998 in collaboration with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. TWF took full ownership of the program in the early 2000s.
Any hunter can donate for free.
“We invite all hunters across the state to participate in this program. It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Simcox. “The hunters can continue to hunt and do something they enjoy while being responsible and not over-harvesting their property. We encourage hunters to be responsible and not harvest more than they and their families can use.”
The average family prefers to keep two deer per year.
There is an overpopulation of does in some Tennessee counties and they threaten crop production, so hunters are encouraged in those areas to thin out the herd.
“That’s where this program is so important because it fills that gap, making it seamless for hunters to continue hunting and donate additional deer,” Simcox said.
Eighty processors are scattered across the state, and the meat is distributed at local food banks like the Mid-South Food Bank.
“Hunters for the Hungry is such a great program because we get the venison in three different forms: steaks, sausage and ground venison,” said Marcia Wells, marketing director of the Mid-South Food Bank. “There are a lot of our agencies that really like it. It’s something they look forward to having during hunting season.”
Nearly 28,000 pounds of venison was donated to MSFB (including some partner agencies) between July 2015 and June 2016. The food bank distributes the food through a network of partner agencies like food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, youth and senior programs.
“Particularly for senior citizens, people who maybe grew up eating deer meat, they really, really like it,” said Wells.
Processors can’t perform their services for free, so TWF tries to offset the costs of processing for the program by raising money.
“As the program has grown, we’ve been able to get unsolicited donations for the program from churches, businesses and other groups,” Simcox said. “In order to keep it free for the hunters for years to come, we need additional funding for the processor fees.”
To that end, TWF “deer coins” can be purchased for $50 – a tax-deductible donation – and the coins can be turned in to deer processors and used as a gift certificate for the fees.
Money is also raised by selling merchandise like hunting caps through the TWF website, and the organization plans to debut other merchandise in the coming months.