Schoonveld: Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry

When my kids were home, a couple of deer each year went a long way towards providing the a substantial amount of the red meat we included in our diet. We never bought beef-burger, rib-eyes or other beef steak. Once in a while, we’d have roast beef. Now the kids are gone and my wife and I still have similar diets. We just don’t need as much venison as we did with hungry teenagers at the table.

It’s the same for many families and it became a conundrum for many hunters. They only needed so much meat in the freezer to satisfy their need, but they enjoyed hunting deer. The DNRs in our area encouraged hunters to keep hunting and harvest more deer to keep the local population under control. But no hunter wants the meat harvested to go to waste.

An avid hunter, using archery, shotguns and muzzleloading rifles, hunting from early October to January and buying the right licenses can legally bring home four, five or more deer. Faced with this, hunting groups as well as DNRs encouraged hunters to donate the deer they bagged over what they needed personally to food banks or other organizations who could use it to feed hungry individuals or distribute to hungry families.

The rub in this was the legality and expense of turning a freshly killed buck into packaged meat the recipients could use. Most food banks and church pantries don’t have meat processing facilities and are reluctant or, in some areas, legally unable to accept packaged meat not handled by a commercial meat processor. Doing so ensured the meat being used was fresh, properly handled by the hunter and processed in a sanitary environment.

Meat processors are businesses. Most could and would “donate” a few butcher-jobs each year, but can’t afford to process meaningful amounts for free. Few food depositories have the funds to pay the processors directly. A hunter might be willing donate a surplus animal, but what if it came with a hefty price tag? He’s less likely to keep hunting. In a few areas, sportsmen’s groups or others help as they can on a local basis.

What was needed was a statewide or even national organization dedicated to putting donated game (or donated domestic livestock) in front of hungry people. Thus, an organization called Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry was founded. FHFH started small but has grown for almost two decades. Started in 1997, the group has paid meat processors to butcher enough deer, elk and livestock to provide 17.5 million servings. In the past year, HFFH processors butchered over 3000 donated animals in twenty five states including 29 in Indiana and 11 in Illinois. Recently, the Pope and Young Club Conservation, Education and Outreach fund awarded a grant to FHFH to fund the startup of 5 new chapters with materials and processing. Local FHFH chapters raise money in several ways, primarily by sponsoring fund raising events, the proceeds from these going straight to the cooperating processors in their area. The Pope and Young Club is a non-profit North American conservation and bowhunting organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of our bowhunting heritage, hunting ethics and wildlife conservation. The Club also maintains the universally recognized repository for the records and statistics on North American big game animals harvested with a bow and arrow. Surveys have shown that programs like FHFH help encourage people to try hunting for the first time, continue hunting after filling their own freezers, or become interested in hunting again. FHFH projects a positive image of hunters as both conservationists and humanitarians in the eyes of the media and non-hunters.

For more information and a list of cooperating processors in each state visit www.FHFH.org.