Hunters urged to donate a kill to help feed needy families
HUNTINGTON — For more than a quarter of a century, West Virginia deer hunters have been helping feed some of the state’s neediest families.
“Ask any West Virginian and they will tell you hunting has made its mark on the people of the Mountain State,” Kent Leonhardt, West Virginia commissioner of agriculture, wrote in an editorial about the program. “The same can be said for our aptitude to help West Virginians who have fallen on hard times. Mountaineers have always shown they are quick to respond when disaster strikes. This year, we are asking all hunters to combine passion with charity by considering donating a kill to the Hunters Helping the Hungry program.”
This season marks the 27th consecutive year the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has operated the Hunters Helping the Hungry program. It allows hunters to donate whole field-dressed deer at participating processors to be distributed by charitable organizations and food pantries statewide.
“Since its inception, hunters and participating processors have donated 25,702 deer toward the
cause,” Leonhardt said. “What this means for our state is our two area food banks, through the Hunters Helping the Hungry program, have been able to collect 979,549 pounds of highly nutritious meat for some of our neediest families. In terms of meals, we estimate 1,318,115 times a West Virginian did not go hungry.”
The program was established in 1992 and has been supported by the Governor’s One Shot Inc. since 2008. The Governor’s One Shot is tasked with privately raising funds to pay processors to ensure there is no cost for hunters who wish to participate.
“As the Governor’s One Shot continues their effort to raise funds, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and the DNR are looking to match their commitment by expanding this already successful program,” Leonhardt said. “We know the HHH’s reach is only limited by two things: deer donated and counties covered by a processor. If we can accept more deer into the program, as well as increase our ability to process those deer, we can expand HHH’s mission. If we want to help feed more families, we need additional hunters and processors to step up to the challenge.”
Hunters who decide to participate in the program take their deer to a participating meat processor, where the processor grinds, packages and freezes the venison. To view the participating West Virginia meat processors, visit http://www.wvdnr.gov/Hunting/PDFFiles/HHHProcessors.pdf.
From there, the Facing Hunger Foodbank in Huntington and Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway will pick up the venison and distribute it through their statewide network of 600 charitable food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, shelters, community centers, orphanages, missions and churches.
“If you are a processor, you just need to reach out to the DNR or the WVDA and ask to get involved,” Leonhardt said. “From there, we can help those businesses work through the process of becoming a certified partner. Our agencies stand ready to assist those who wish to give back this holiday season.”
According to Tyler Evans, a wildlife biologist for the West Virginia DNR, the Hunters Helping the Hungry program has the potential to donate thousands of pounds of venison to the needy on an annual basis, making it a worthwhile program. However, the total cost of this program has averaged $58,989.86 over the past six years, he said.
“There is considerable interest in the program, but the DNR is restricted from using sportsmen’s license dollars to fund the program,” Evans said. “Therefore, the DNR must rely on the generosity of concerned individuals, businesses, conservation organizations, foundations and churches.”
Evans said another source of funds is the annual Share the Harvest Sunday fundraiser, which took place recently.
“The West Virginia Council of Churches holds an annual Share the Harvest Sunday during the first Sunday in November,” he said. “On that day, approximately 3,000 participating churches ask their congregations to donate $1, $5 or any amount they can afford to the HHH program.”
Evans said anyone with questions or wanting to participate in the program should call the DNR District 3 Office at 304-924-6211.
“To all hunters, we ask while you pursue your passion, think about giving back to those who desperately need assistance,” Leonhardt said. “Not only will you be helping control the deer population, you will be providing high-quality, fresh food to families who may miss their next meal. Help us expand a program that is a clear winwin for our state. Let’s prove West Virginians will always step up to help our most needy and become a Hunters Helping the Hungry partner today.”
Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/Fred-PaceHD and via Twitter at @FredPaceHD.
HOW TO HELP
Not a hunter but want to help? Interested individuals, churches, organizations and businesses can help to ensure the perpetuation of the Hunters Helping the Hungry program through a monetary donation that can be made at any time. Checks and money orders should be made out to Hunters Helping the Hungry and mailed to: Hunters Helping the Hungry, WV Division of Natural Resources, 163 Wildlife Road, French Creek, WV 26218.