By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
One deer equals about 200 meals.
To Chester Palmer, who heads up a food distribution program that operates out of the First Baptist Church in Quapaw, Okla., that’s a lot of meat.
“Right now, we’re helping an average of 65 families once a month, and we try to get some meat somewhere so we can have it all the time, but most times people donate canned vegetables or maybe tuna,” Palmer said.
So whenever he learns from Wade Payne, owner of the Columbus, Kan., meat locker, that a deer has been donated, processed and is ready in 2-pound packages, he’s relieved.
“We just go on donations from people in the church, which has about 75 people, and that limits us,” Palmer said.
Similar stories are playing out across Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma each deer hunting season. In Kansas, the nonprofit organization Kansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry in 2011 provided 1,038 deer — or nearly 225,000 meals — through 100 food banks across the state.
Payne’s meat locker has participated in the program for six years.
“We probably had 30 deer donated already this year,” Payne said. “When it’s processed, it stays pretty much local, within at least 35 or 40 miles. Churches can sign for it and pick it up for food pantries.”
Wildlife officials estimate that during the 12-day Kansas firearm deer season, which this year ran from Nov. 28 to Dec. 9, more than 50,000 deer may have been harvested. In some areas of the state, hunters can obtain permits to harvest up to five antlerless white-tailed deer, in addition to their permit to harvest either gender. While additional harvests help stabilize and control the deer population, some hunters don’t want or need more than one or two deer in the freezer.
Enter Kansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry. It was founded in 2001 when Tony DeRossett, a mail carrier and hunter in Tonganoxie, read about an effort in Maryland that allowed hunters to donate the meat to lockers for distribution to food pantries. He contacted the Maryland program for advice on getting started, met with Kansas wildlife officials and began with a team of two volunteers.
“We signed up about 12 meat lockers to work with us, with a goal of maybe getting 10 deer donated,” DeRossett said. “It costs $65 to have a deer processed. We had to raise money to pay for it and couldn’t believe we got 180 deer that first year.”
The organization now works with 42 meat lockers and 160 food pantries across Kansas, with the greatest concentration in the eastern two-thirds of the state. The biggest challenge, DeRossett said, remains funding.
“We use every imaginable way you can beg for money,” he said. “Most comes in through grants and church groups, and companies also donate.”
In 2003, legislation was passed to allow the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to collect donations of $2 or more for the organization when hunters and anglers buy licenses.
More than 1,000 deer have been contributed annually for the past four years, with the cost for deer processing coming in at $72,000 a year. The organization has no administrative costs.
“We’re supplying 230,000 meals every year,” DeRossett said. “Cumulatively, we’re about 1.3 million meals.”
He said that when he began working with the Greenwood County food pantry, he was told that in seven years, the sole meat donation was a side of beef.
“Meat’s expensive, it spoils, and people just don’t donate it,” he said.
Ultimately, DeRossett said, his organization would like to push for a legal means for harvesting deer outside of deer season.
“We would love to be supplying meat throughout the year,” he said.
Participating meat lockers may be found online at www.kshfh.org. The meat lockers must be licensed and inspected, and there is a great deal of regulation to ensure that quality meat is being distributed.
There is no cost for hunters to donate deer, as long as the nonprofit organization has sufficient funding to cover the processing expense. Donated game must be field dressed and legally tagged. Hunters also may donate just a portion of the meat they are having processed.
The regular firearm season in Kansas ended Dec. 9. An extended firearm season limited to antlerless white-tailed deer opens Jan. 1 and runs through Jan. 13. An extended archery season for antlerless white-tailed deer runs from Jan. 14-31. A special extended firearm season for antlerless white-tailed deer runs from Jan. 14-20 in units 7 and 8 in north-central Kansas and unit 15 in south-central Kansas.
In Missouri, the Share the Harvest program provides a way for deer hunters to donate venison to the needy. Under the program administered by the Conservation Federation of Missouri and the Missouri Department of Conservation, 317,882 pounds of venison were donated by 6,191 hunters last year.
The cost of processing is each hunter’s responsibility, but funds are available to help offset that cost. During the urban zones portion of the firearm season, the entire processing cost is paid by the Conservation Federation of Missouri and local sponsors.
During all other portions and seasons, the Conservation Federation of Missouri administers a statewide program that directly reimburses the processor a set amount for each deer that is donated. Some processors also have local money available to offset costs.
Missouri archery season began Nov. 21 and runs through Jan. 15. The firearm-alternative methods season will open Saturday and run through Christmas. A youth firearm weekend is slated for Dec. 29-30.
Hunters Against Hunger is a cooperative program by processors, the Department of Wildlife Conservation and hunters in Oklahoma. During the 2010-11 season, hunters donated 48,000 pounds of venison, which provided almost 192,000 meals.
Hunters who harvest a deer during any deer season may donate the meat at participating processors after the deer is checked at a hunter check station. To help with processing charges, each donor is requested to contribute a tax-deductible $10. The ground venison is distributed to the needy through a network of charitable organizations.
Oklahoma archery season opened Oct. 1 and runs through Jan. 15. The firearm season opened the Saturday before Thanksgiving and ran for 16 days. A holiday firearm season for antlerless deer will run from Dec. 21-30 in certain zones.
“WE DEFINITELY put the deer meat to good use,” said Chester Palmer, who heads up a food distribution program that operates out of the First Baptist Church in Quapaw, Okla. “We definitely need it. It takes us through December, January and February.”