The hunting season for deer has ended or is about to end in most states. But the deer are still plentiful. Overpopulation of deer has led to an increase in deer-and-car crashes. Too many deer also damage the understory of forests. In some states, though, the deer overpopulation also means more deer meat is made available to low-income people. That’s because hunters, meat processors and food banks are working together to get venison to the poor. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Skye Rohde
The hunting season for deer has ended or is about to end in most states. But the deer are
still plentiful. Overpopulation of deer has led to an increase in deer and car crashes. Too
many deer also damage the understory of forests. In some states, though, the deer
overpopulation also means more deer meat is made available to low-income people.
That’s because hunters, meat processors and food banks are working together to get
venison to the poor. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Skye Rohde reports:
It’s only been in the last decade or so that states have begun allowing hunters to donate
wild game to charitable organizations. In New York, meat processors and hunters started
the Venison Donation Coalition in 1998. Starting out, they gave a thousand pounds of
deer meat to food pantries in two counties.
Kathy Balbierer handles the coalition’s public relations. She says since that first thousand
pound donation, the program has grown…
“Last year, we had 108,000 pounds of venison donated, which on the average is, you
know – a deer is 40 pounds. It was approximately 27,000 deer. This year we have 119
participating processors throughout the state serving 52 counties.”
It’s an idea that hunters and meat processors across the nation are embracing. There are
venison donation programs in almost every state. Some, such as those in New York and
Illinois, are administered by state government. Others, like Michigan’s and Minnesota’s,
are run by private organizations.
Here’s how it works. First, a hunter who wants to donate meat takes it to a participating
processor. Ed Tanguey operates a meat processing facility in Kirkville, New York. He
says it’s a pretty simple process.
“Once the hunters show up to the building, we’ll have them come into our skinning room.
We’ll have them fill out some paperwork and once it’s brought in, we’ll start to skin the
deer, remove the hide and trim off any meat that’s not edible. We’ll bring the deer into
our cutting room.”
Butchers section the deer into shoulder, torso and hindquarters.
(sound of grinder starting up)
Then Tanguey sets up the grinder and grabs the meat from the cooler.
He packs the ground meat into five-pound black-and-white tubes and slaps a label on
with his name and the hunter’s license number on it.
Tanguey has processed 250 deer so far this season, 44 of them for the Venison Donation
Coalition. The coalition pays him a reduced rate, about a dollar a pound. Once there’s
enough meat in Tanguey’s cooler, he calls the Food Bank of Central New York to pick it
Tanguey says this is his way of giving back to his community.
“When I see a hunter bringing in his son or grandson and they’re giving a second deer or
a third deer to the food bank, I think it’s going to pass it on to them. And years from now
we’ll keep the coalition supplied with some more food for the food bank.”
Jim Giacando is operations manager at the Food Bank of Central New York. He says
200 of the 600 agencies he works with ask for venison.
“In our freezer, we have almost 1,000 lbs ready to distribute, and it’s already committed
to a number of agencies throughout our 11-county area. And we’ll be distributing it this
week and next week, and then hopefully we’ll receive more in and fill more orders.”
The food bank will receive venison up until January. But Giacando says the greatest
challenge is keeping up with the demand for deer meat. A lot of people want it.
“I think we actually may have to get to a point where we might have to say ‘you know,
you can’t order that much. We have to keep it for all the other programs.'”
(ambient sound in church)
One of the food pantries asking for the deer meat is the University United Methodist
Church in Syracuse, New York. Norma Goel ordered venison from Giacando’s food
bank. The church’s food pantry feeds about 150 people every week.
Goel says she can’t buy as much food for the pantry as she’d like to because of the
church’s limited budget and an increase in the number of poor people asking for food.
She says farm-raised meat is a high-priced commodity…
“We’re always looking for a way to provide meat to participants in the pantry. And it’s
become increasingly difficult to buy frozen meat that the food bank has. By and large,
we’re not purchasing frozen meat from the food bank because we can’t afford it.”
So the deer meat is a cheaper alternative. Last year, Goel ordered venison too late to
receive any. This year she got all she could for the pantry: 60 pounds. She only has to
pay the handling costs – the coalition covers processing.
Goel says she’ll encourage people to use the deer meat in place of ground beef because
it’s high in protein and low in fat. She says the 60 pounds will feed a lot of hungry people
in her community.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Skye Rohde.