Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Hunters help feed hungry with deer meat

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Even Bambi lovers might have difficulty arguing with John Phillips and Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry.

        Mr. Phillips is director of the organization, which last year killed 561 deer that were turned into 100,000 meals for soup kitchens, homeless shelters and food pantries across the state. This coming deer season, the program wants to double production.

        Stan Curtis, founder of the Kentucky Harvest food bank program in Louisville, has never hunted and never eaten venison. He knows only the wonderful results of the initiative.

        “Isn't it great when it's a win, win, win; and believe me, it is,” said Mr. Curtis.

        Mr. Phillips acknowledges he has to overcome some hurdles, including among the charities the hunters seek to help.

        “A lot of times, there's an anti-hunting sentiment that can surface on the boards of these charities,” Mr. Phillips said.

        Venison is not exactly a staple among urban dwellers, but Mr. Curtis said the people who get the 900,000 meals a year from shelters in Louisville appreciate it nevertheless.

        Meat is often a rare commodity at shelters and food banks because it is expensive and difficult to store. But it is also an important source of protein. “It's providing a nutrient that's very rare in soup kitchens, shelters and missions,” Mr. Curtis said.

        Venison may be more familiar to the people who take advantage of the soup kitchen, food pantry and homeless shelter operated by Christ's Hands in Harlan, one of the 11 charities that receive the deer meat. “It's a treat they don't often get,” said Robert Adkins of the shelter.

        “I haven't heard anything negative about deer meat,” said Steve Stivers of the Bluegrass Community Action agency, which serves people in nine counties. “In fact, they talk about how delicious it is.”

        The program also helps Kentucky keep control of its deer herd, which has gotten bigger than biologists want.

        Roy Grimes of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources said the state enjoys a close relationship with Hunters for the Hungry. The department helped organize it and underwrites it to the tune of about $18,500 per year. The money is well-spent because the state would have been undertaking a similar effort and would have had to assign several employees to do the work of the volunteers in Hunters for the Hungry, Mr. Grimes said.

        And the program helps the public image of hunters, Mr. Grimes said. “Hunters know that the slobs among them, the ones that give us a black eye, are few,” Mr. Grimes said.

        Hunters for the Hungry has arrangements with about 40 meat processors around the state who have agreed to take deer from hunters who wish to donate. The processors charge $30 to process the donated deer, about half their usual fee. The processed meat is ground, and looks much like hamburger.

        Processors can take a tax deduction for the difference because Hunters for the Hungry last year won IRS designation as a charity.

        Last year's deer harvest produced an average of 51 pounds per deer. The 29,083 pounds was distributed to the 11 charities. This coming deer season, which runs from Sept. 15 to Jan. 21, the group hopes to double their donations.

        It will be hardly a dent in the herd, which Mr. Grimes estimated at 750,000. Last year, hunters killed 158,000 deer. The herd has gotten so large, especially in some areas, that hunters are allowed to kill as many as they wish, provided they buy the proper tags.

        As with many charities, Hunters for the Hungry has its own financial problems. Hunters themselves sometimes donate the $30 for the processing fee, but the organization also makes payments.

        The organization has some unusual fund-raising efforts this year. Later this month, it will auction a one-day quail hunting expedition on the eBay Web site. The hunting outing will be at a Woodford County reserve and include guide and dogs. The auction starts Sunday and will run until Aug. 26.

        “We're living hand-to-mouth and we're worried about our own existence, really, from one day to the next,” Mr. Phillips said.


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