As the first rays painted the sky Saturday morning, thousands of Tennesseans were in the woods. Saturday was the opening day of whitetail deer season statewide, and hunters are allowed to take several deer through the roughly 90-day season.
That’s where the Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s Hunters for the Hungry program comes in. September is Hunger Awareness Month, and participating deer processors are ready to accept donations of lean, healthy venison as part of Hunters for the Hungry.
Last year, Tennessee hunters donated more than 135,000 pounds of processed venison – that’s more than 500,000 meals in 2012 alone, and nearly 4 million over the course of the program’s 15-year history. Seventy-five Department of Agriculture-certified processors in 59 counties collect and process the venison, which is then distributed to food banks and soup kitchens across the state.
“This program has continued to grow considerably, even through the recession, because people understand the ever-increasing hunger challenge,” says Matt Simcox, the Federation’s Hunters for the Hungry program manager. “This is something that everyone can get behind. Even those who don’t hunt can contribute to cover the cost of processing. One deer, processed at a cost of roughly $40, can provide more than 150 meals.”
Food banks often cite the program as their only reliable source of protein, says Simcox. The professionally processed ground venison can be used in soups, stews, pastas, and chilis, for tacos, meatloaf, and hamburgers, and in countless other ways.
In some counties, funding exists to cover a processing quota, whereby hunters can simply drop off deer at no cost. A full list of processors and quotas is available at www.tnwf.org. Locally, the processor is KT’s Wild Game, located at 124 Shelbyville Highway. The phone number is 993-7657.
“As a non-profit, we have to raise every dollar to run this program,” Simcox says. “We couldn’t do it without the individual donations, large and small. Our potential is only limited by the amount of money we can raise towards the professional processing of deer.”
Now in its 16th year, Tennessee’s Hunters for the Hungry program is one of the most successful of its kind in the nation.
Founded in 1946, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation is the statewide champion of our Great Outdoors. For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation, go to www.tnwf.org.