ALBANY — The Georgia Wildlife Federation runs the Hunters for the Hungry program in Georgia. Through the program, hunters can donate a field-dressed deer to a local processor. GWF pays for the meat to be processed, and then it is distributed to a local food bank.
“After the hurricane (Michael), Dougherty County District 4 Commissioner Russell Gray contacted us about expanding the program into storm-affected counties.” GWF Conservation Resource Manager DeAnn Harris said. “From that conversation, Hart’s Deer Processing came on board. “
Since the program started in October, Hart has so far delivered 262 pounds of processed venison to the Lord’s Pantry to help families in the region.
Begun in 1994, the Hunters for the Hungry program was discontinued two years ago due to a lack of funding. Now it’s back, thanks in large measure to grants from the Wal-Mart and Arby’s foundations.
“That’s good, because cheap, high-quality protein is hard to come by,” Eliza McCall with Second Harvest of South Georgia in Valdosta, the second-largest food bank in the state, said. “For us to be able to get these donations from Georgia’s hunters is just fantastic, to get that venison. You know, it’s a very nutritious meat, it’s lean.”
The GWF program is administered by Sam Stowe, who called the Hunters for the Hungry program one of the organization’s most successful efforts.
“Right now, we have more that 20 processors statewide in the group,” Stowe said. “We pay the processor $1.50 a pound, and the food bank comes and picks up the processed meat. After the storm, the commissioner (Gray) called me and said they had plenty of non-perishables coming in to the food bank, but not much meat. He said there was a real need for those meals.
“It’s good for the hunter, the processor, the food banks and us. Nobody really comes out whole in this thing, but it’s a valuable program.”
Stowe said GWF’s goal is to have at least one processor in every county in Georgia.
“Now we are a long ways from there and money has been a problem since 2008 when the market crashed,” Stowe said. “”We had to start a rebuilding process, and we have just gotten back on our feet and are walking again.”
For his part, Gray said he has used the past season as a learning experience.
“The most difficult part of the effort was getting the charities to understand there is a legitimate need for processed meat,” the county commissioner said. “Now I just need to get other charities to commit to the program.”