by Phil Phillips - Monday, August 19, 2019
It is a fact that hunters are the world’s top conservationists and do more for wildlife than any other group. But what many people don’t know is how much we hunters care about our fellow man and how proactive we are in helping people in our own communities to fight hunger. For nearly 30 years, we have been helping to feed those less fortunate through the Hunters for the Hungry (HFTH) movement, sharing the wild game we harvest through state-based programs where we hunt and live. By donating and in many cases also paying to process the meat, we are providing a high-protein, low-cholesterol meat source to those who otherwise would go hungry.
For someone who spends a fair amount of time in Virginia, I am proud that one of the most prominent HFTH programs is Virginia Hunters Who Care (VHWC). Launched in 1991, it has provided more than 27.7 million quarter-pound servings to feed hungry Virginians to date. VHWC holds fundraisers across the state that my wife and I try and attend, the most recent being the 8th annual VHWC banquet in Manassas, Va., on July 20, where hunters mobilized to net $17,684.89. For anyone who thinks a gathering of hunters could not possibly make such a difference, VHWC Projects Coordinator Gary Arrington says this dollar amount is enough to fund the processing and distribution of 79,582 quarter-pound servings of venison.
Welcoming supporters to the event, Arrington shared an incredible eye-opener on why hunters taking action is so important. “One in eight families in Virginia alone is impacted by hunger,” he said. “Nearly one million emergency meals are served in the state each month, and nearly 50 percent of those receiving meat through the program are children and the elderly.” Think about that for a moment. Thanks to VHWC, in just eight years Arrington said this single fundraising event has raised $165,303.89, which equates to 743,867 quarter-pound servings of high-protein, low-fat venison going to men, women and children across the state.
In fighting hunger just outside our nation’s capital, Arrington added, “We want you to know the difference you make. We’re processing venison for 93 cents per pound so it goes a long way.” He explained it takes all of us in the hunting community, singling out the event’s corporate sponsors including Cabela’s and Sportsman’s Warehouse, conservation groups like the NRA and local chapters of Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Safari Club International. “Please support these groups,” he urged. “Do business with the company that makes it possible for us to feed people.”
Arrington’s blessing for the meal included a prayer for freedom and to watch over and care for our fellow man and acknowledged VHWC founder David Horne, who passed away in 2002. Giving a heartfelt thank you, he said, “On behalf of Hunters for the Hungry and all those whose lives are touched by your generosity, thank you for all that you are and all that you do in support of our program.”
Arrington said VHWC’s goal for 2019 is to yield 325,000 pounds of venison with the ultimate goal of processing and distributing more than 500,000 pounds of meat per year. “In Virginia we are blessed with a bountiful whitetail deer herd and with donations of deer and successful program funding,” he said, “we continue to be able to provide an average of 1.2 million quarter-pound servings each year. We will process and distribute 4.5 quarter-pound servings for each dollar raised here tonight.”
Witnessing the Launch of a Movement
Like every other hunter who is aware of HFTH, I am a proud supporter. Before the national hunter-backed movement had an official name, as a Colorado outfitter in the late 1980s, I wanted to do my part to make sure every ounce of protein was used from the game animals my clients harvested to help others enjoy the health benefits of the low-cholesterol, high-protein venison. I started a similar program with my hunters who did not need or could not take their meat home. We covered the processing fees so I legally could donate the processed meat to senior living centers and needy families. Some recipients were older people who could not hunt any longer and missed the opportunity to have wild game in the freezer. But in most cases, I witnessed how the meat donations fed people who fought hunger every day.
By 1991, the NRA had gotten behind the HFTH movement on the national level and was running the NRA HFTH Information Clearinghouse to help put hunters in touch with programs in their communities. As an NRA Life member, I was proud of the NRA’s efforts and, years later, I continue to enjoy donating meat and attending local HFTH fundraisers in my home state and in the areas where I hunt. To date, one of the most prominent state-run HFTH programs to emerge is VHWC, which continues to receive grant funding from The NRA Foundation and other organizations that support its mission.
Important to note, while helping to feed people, VHWC—and every other state-based HFTH program in the country—helps to address other important issues. HFTH encourages hunters to harvest additional deer to help manage thriving deer herds by helping to reduce overall deer numbers statewide. It also enhances public safety on highways and near airports while helping to reduce crop and other damage caused by deer overpopulation. And finally, HFTH helps to promote the hunting heritage in a positive manner while demonstrating the respect and care we hunters show all across our country. State-based HFTH programs are non-profit feeding programs that promote both the tradition of hunting and the tradition of caring—hallmarks of the American sportsman.
Making a Difference
“We are so very blessed to live in this great nation of America, where no child should lay his or her head down at night and feel hunger,” said Arrington, leading into the start of the event’s live fundraising auction. “Please help us to meet our needs so we can meet the needs of those less fortunate all across Virginia. You can make a difference, touch the life of a stranger.”
And that is what the crowd did. As mentioned earlier, the live and silent auctions from this one event raised $17,684.89 for VHWC, with items including hunting and kayak float trips as well as firearms, hunting equipment, jewelry, Washington Nationals baseball tickets and a hand-crafted, hand-painted wooden U.S. flag. It was fun to bid on things and, on a couple of occasions, to win the prize, knowing every dollar raised made a difference.
For a firsthand account of the need to promote the success of VHWC—and of every other hunter-backed, state-based HFTH program across America, NASCAR notable Jeff Hammond is quick to sound home his support. The long-time NASCAR analyst and commentator for FOX Sports and host of Performance Racing Network’s “Fast Talk” and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Late Shift” is proud to educate others on the movement. He regularly donates deer taken off his own 15,000-acre hunting lease in Texas where the meat is processed and distributed to churches, women’s shelters and community groups involved with feeding the hungry.
“I’ve always hunted but I never realized how much I would love its conservation aspects, especially when I see the benefits of providing for families in need,” Hammond said. “How good you feel is as if you had just taken a buck of a lifetime because of what you did to harvest and donate the animal you were blessed to hunt.”
The former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship crew chief is a member of the NRA Board’s Hunting, Wildlife and Conservation Committee where meeting topics include the need to enhance support of HFTH and promote the generous contributions of hunters. Hammond will be the first to tell you that working for the good of the group—for man and wildlife alike—is what mainstream, all-American hunters always have done.
About Virginia Hunters Who Care
Founded by David Horne in 1991, the Virginia HFTH program fittingly is called Virginia Hunters Who Care. Horne, who was then serving as the general manager of the faith-based, nonprofit hunger-relief organization the Society of Saint Andrew, organized a meeting to determine the feasibility of the HFTH concept in Virginia. Working with representatives from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Association of Meat Processors, the Virginia Deer Hunters Association, the Virginia Federation of Foodbanks, the Virginia Department of Health and interested individuals, Horne determined that venison legally could be donated, processed and distributed in compliance with Virginia laws and codes. The Society of St. Andrew volunteered to take on the pilot project for the short term, and Virginia’s HFTH program was up and running.
In step with the national HFTH movement, VHWC accepts donated deer and has them processed, wrapped and frozen and then distributes the meat to needy families through the Salvation Army, food banks, missions, churches, soup kitchens and other feeding programs across Virginia. The goal set by the program in its inaugural year was 15,000 pounds of venison but during the first year alone, thanks to “hunters who care,” it distributed 33,900 pounds of the high-protein, low-fat, low-cholesterol meat. This amounted to more than 132,000 quarter-pound servings. Since that first year, VHWC has processed more than 6.9 million pounds, surpassing 2.7 million servings.
With more than 27.7 million servings of venison provided to date, VHWC continues to raise the bar to feed even more people in need. To find out how you can help, whether by donating a deer, volunteering to assist with program efforts or providing a financial contribution, visit www.h4hungry.org, email [email protected] or call 800-352-HUNT (4868).
About the Author: NRA Life member, award-winning outdoor TV host and recreational real estate associate broker Phil Phillips of Hayden Outdoors has hunted five continents, taking more than 200 big-game animals and nearly 60 species worldwide. Prior to hosting hunting programs, he started Colorado's first Ranching for Wildlife Program for antelope, which he ran for 15 years. Working alongside professional land managers to restore and protect habitat, Phil went on to guide clients to 500-plus big-game animals that have qualified for the record book. In 1992 Safari Club International honored him as the North American Bowhunting Outfitter of the Year. Email Phil at [email protected].
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