(Ft. Wayne, IN) - About a quarter of a million meals of venison will help feed the hungry throughout Indiana if the number of deer donated to the cause by hunters meets this year’s goal.
In 2011, Hoosiers Feeding Hungry near Ft. Wayne started a program where hunters statewide can take a deer to a local meat processor involved in the effort. The one and two-pound packages of venison from the butcher shop are given to local food pantries and soup kitchens.
“All of the meat stays in the community in which it’s donated,” said Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry Executive Director Deb Treesh.
Last year, her organization paid the meat processing costs totaling more than $64,000.
Treesh said the effort has a measurable impact because just one deer, on average, provides up to 200 meals. In addition, the drive has grown from just five donated deer initially to over 770 last year from more hunters and butchers learning about the program.
Treesh said this year’s goal is 1,200 deer, yielding about 60,000 pounds of meat. She said the goal was set high to meet a growing need for food assistance primarily from higher meat prices caused by inflation and the federal government recently scaling back on the number of commodities it gives to food pantries.
In Indiana, about 800,000 residents struggle to have enough to eat, and 47 percent of those individuals, based on their income, do not qualify for food stamps, said Katie DeForest, Fund Development Director at the organization.
“People are having a harder time stretching their budgets to make ends meet,” DeForest said.
Treesh said about a third of the revenue for the organization comes from an annual fundraiser in September. Other sources of dollars for the group include grants.
“The more meat we need, the more finances we need,” Treesh said.
The donated meat comes mostly from deer harvested in reduction zones or areas where populations need thinning and during traditional hunting seasons.
Deer started to be taken from reduction zones like the Indiana Dunes in mid-September.
Archery season in Indiana runs from October 1 to January 1, while the firearms and muzzleloader seasons each last for about two weeks in November and December.
Treesh said she doesn’t know how many deer have been donated this year, but the Indiana Department of Natural Resources is helping with a more aggressive spread-the-word campaign to drive up giving further.
Hunters could even donate just a few pounds of venison from a deer or whatever might be left in their freezers to contribute to the cause. Hunters can also give money.
“If they don’t want to give up their deer, I get it. I respect that. They can even donate financially. Every dollar makes a difference,” Treesh said.
Another 100 or so deer were donated to the cause last year through the DuBois County Sportsman’s Club, which partners with Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry in the effort.
Conservation Officer Tyler Brock said the DNR, mainly through e-mails and social media, encourages hunters to donate and puts them in touch with participating meat processors in their area. Hunters could take as many as ten deer in state-designated reduction zones during the season.
“If a hunter has a surplus of deer on their property that they’re trying to manage and they need to take more deer than what their family is going to eat, this gives them an opportunity to donate that deer and put it to good use,” Brock said.
Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry also accepts livestock donations in a program that began in 2012.
Last year, Treesh said Indiana farmers and 4-H youth contributed well over 200,000 pounds of meat from animals like beef cows, hogs, lambs, and goats.