This year alone, needy Missourians received more than 100 tons of lean, red meat through the venison donation program.
Missouri Hunters donated more than a quarter of a million pounds of venison to needy Missourians during the 2009-2010 hunting season, pushing the cumulative total for the Share the Harvest (STH) program to more than 2 million pounds. Program coordinator David Murphy says he would like to see that much donated annually.
Now in its 18th year, Share the Harvest orchestrates the efforts of thousands of hunters, local organizations and meat processors to get ground venison to people in need. In its first year, the program collected several hundred pounds of venison. The program grew rapidly after the Conservation Federation of Missouri and the Conservation Department adopted it. Today, Share the Harvest nets more than 200,000 pounds of venison yearly.
This year's final tally was more than 252,000 pounds. More than 5,000 hunters donated meat through more than 100 participating meat processors in approximately 74 counties.
Providing enough protein, especially meat, for needy Missourians is one of charitable organizations' biggest challenges. Share the Harvest allows hunters to donate whole deer at little or no cost, making a mountain of lean red meat available to community food banks, Salvation Army units and other charities.
"It's an amazing partnership that benefits Missouri in so many ways," says Murphy, the Conservation Federation's executive director. "Needy Missourians get high-quality protein. The Conservation Department gets help managing the state's deer herd. That helps reduce problems with deer-vehicle accidents and crop damage, and it keeps the deer herd healthy by preventing overpopulation."
Murphy says there is no reason why Share the Harvest could not collect millions of pounds of venison each year. He says boosting venison donations above the million-pound mark is "just a matter of organization and fundraising."
"Share the Harvest is a grassroots effort at heart," says Murphy. "Local sponsors work out the practical details of where hunters bring deer, how deer get processed, how the processing is paid for and who gets the meat. We are just here to make it possible. Local people make it happen. We still have more than 30 counties without local Share the Harvest programs, and a lot of the counties that already have programs could easily support additional ones. There is plenty of room to grow."
Murphy said there still is time to organize charities, churches, civic clubs, sportsmen's groups, meat processors, financial supporters and local news media to form a local Share the Harvest effort. For information about how to get started, visit mdc.mo.gov/hunt/deer/share/, call 573-634-2322, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.