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Hunters for the Hungry primed for hunting, holiday seasons

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By Mike Forster

With deer season coming into full swing, the opportunity for hunters and non-hunters to help their fellow Virginians presents itself through the Hunters for the Hungry program.

Hunters for the Hungry (H4H), has set an ambitious target of facilitating the movement of 360,000 pounds of meat from the woodlands of Virginia to the supper tables of the state?s neediest families.

That 360,000 pounds represents 1.44 million servings of meat, according to Laura Newell-Furniss, Program Director of H4H. Another way of looking at the metric is that it represents almost 1,000 pounds of meat each calendar day of the entire year.

The program is remarkably simple. A hunter who has legally bagged a deer simply drops it off at one of the local processors, who will harvest the meat, including roasts and burger. The processors freeze the meat and it is ready for pickup by local food banks that have the greatest shortages of meat. The food banks, in turn, distribute the frozen meat to prequalified citizens for them to serve to their families.

H4H plays matchmaker in all of this.

Here is an example. Erik Donahue is an avid hunter. The Forest Elementary School student and his father, Pat, have killed and donated numerous deer to the program.

?This is a win, win, win situation,? said Pat Donahue. ?Erik and I win because we get to do something that we like to do, hunt. The community wins because when we harvest deer, it helps to control the deer herds...The less fortunate win because they receive vital protein that they may not otherwise get due to their particular situation.?

Donahue continued, ?I get to do something (hunt) that I enjoy, I help my community, and I get to teach my son to not only be self-sufficient but to help other people in need.?

Matt Knox, Deer Project Coordinator with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), points out that hunters that take multiple deer (legally) are key to controlling the herds and to getting food onto the tables of those most in need. Of the state?s 250,000 licensed hunters, 40% (100,000) will not get a kill. 50,000 will get a single deer, while 50,000 will get two. That leaves 50,000 who will get three or more.

?A deer hunter will not kill a deer if it will be wasted,? said Knox. ?He won?t kill the deer if it isn?t going to be eaten.? Hence, the need for an outlet when a successful hunter finds himself with a full freezer.

H4H serves as that outlet for many hunters, and Bedford County is a ripe environment for those multiple-kill hunters. Our county led the state in deer harvested last season, with a total take of 8,215, according to the DGIF. The season before, Bedford County was second, behind Faquier. However, ?sitting at the top of the class is not where you want to be,? noted Knox, meaning that the statistic points to a severe overpopulation of deer in the county.

Dennis Evans is one of the processors for H4H. ?Dennis and Barbara Witt, of Bedford Christian Ministries, just picked up 348 pounds (of venison),? he reported recently. Evans has processed about 1,000 pounds of meat for the program so far.

?A lot of times, hunters feel they can hunt with a purpose if they can get the meat distributed,? he said. ?Landowners (are opening up their land and) are telling hunters they can hunt their property, but they have to take does.?

Knox, from the DGIF, agreed that the key to controlling the deer population resides in taking more does.

Therein lies a problem. Processors are paid a flat fee by H4H per deer, regardless of size (although, the processors do give a discount to H4H compared to what it charges the public). Yields typically range from 18 to 45 pounds, so the big bucks are more cost effective for the program. Yet, with the influx of smaller deer, the need for financial support is greater.

One technique that both Newell-Furniss and Evans point to is the donation of packages of meat. If a hunter has his or her deer processed at Evans? (or Arrington?s) shop for home consumption, they might elect to donate a few packages of the meat to the H4H program.

All donations seem to be greatly appreciated. Rosemary Pawlas, President of Bedford Christian Ministries, noted that venison is greatly appreciated by her clients. ?(The program) allows us to buy things we wouldn?t normally be able to buy (to stock the larder),? said Pawlas.

As she showed off two freezers full of venison, Pawlas stated that 300 allotments of venison are made through the ministry, each consisting of 1-3 pounds. ?Some of our clients look forward to the season when they can get venison,? she added.

Barbara Witt, of the Ministries, added that worksheets on how to cook venison are available, as well.

H4H is a program of giving. Hunters manage the herd and donate their harvest. Processors provide a discount. The public provides financial support. The food pantries distribute the meat. Folks in need give their families nutritious food.