Food banks and soup kitchens across the state continue to cite increasing need and decreasing donations, and the lean, healthy, safe protein provided by the state’s Hunters for the Hungry program is often the only meat available.
Thankfully, officials with the Tennessee Wildlife Federation say hunters continue to be willing to help address hunger, despite the recession.
“In the midst of the economic downturn, it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to say we’ve grown this program each of the last five years,” said Matt Simcox, TWF’s Hunters for the Hungry coordinator. “Programs in other states have not been as successful, and it goes back to that Volunteer spirit — Tennesseans are willing to help their neighbors.”
The program posted growth of 8.3 percent over the 2012 numbers, collecting a total of 136,162 pounds of donated venison. Over the life of the program, hunters have donated nearly a million pounds of lean, healthy meat — more than 3.7 million meals!
Seventy-five Tennessee Department of Agriculture-certified processors in 59 counties collect and process the venison, which is then distributed to food banks and soup kitchens across the state.
In Memphis, an $18,000 grant from the Plough Foundation fed more than 56,000 meals through the Mid-South Food Bank. An additional 14,000 pounds of venison came to the food bank from processors in five surrounding counties, and was distributed through their affiliate hunger-relief agencies.
In Middle Tennessee, Giles County-based food pantry Matthew 25 typically receives a few thousand pounds of meat each year, and would love to have more.
“We hand out about 75 boxes of food a month, and meat is expensive. We’re usually only able to buy meat if the (associated) thrift store is profitable enough to afford it,” Coggin said. “We’ve had an increase in need–people who used to make donations to us are unemployed now and having to ask for help. This is a wonderful thing for Matthew 25, and really helps us feed people good, healthy protein.”
Coggin and her volunteer crew, 35 members of local churches, prepare recipes for soups, stews, casseroles and chilis, and include them with the ground venison they deliver to people in need.
“People really love the venison and appreciate it,” Coggin said. “We always look forward to getting more.”
Donate to Help
With Tennessee hunting and fishing licenses expiring Feb. 28, license purchasers have an opportunity to help when renewing. Hunters and fishermen can donate a dollar or more at the point of sale, and those dollars add up.
“As a non-profit, we have to raise every dollar to run this program,” Simcox said. “From organizations like the Plough Foundation to individual Wal-Mart store grants and donations from supporters large and small, we couldn’t do it without them. Our potential is only limited by the amount of money we can raise towards the professional processing of deer.”
In its 15th year, Tennessee’s Hunters for the Hungry program is one of the most successful of its kind in the nation. Click here to read the full Hunters for the Hungry annual report.