by Mark Chesnut - Thursday, November 30, 2023
Most long-time deer hunters have heard about the great whitetail hunting in Texas. I’m very well-aware of that fact myself, as I killed one of my best bucks ever in the Lone Star State a few years ago and will never turn down an invitation to go back.
What many probably don’t know, however, is that Texas ranks near the top of the heap for the number of deer donated each year to feed families who don’t have enough to eat. And with November being National Wild Game Meat Donation Month, it seems like a good time to explore that important fact.
Austin-based Hunters for the Hungry, a part of the Feeding Texas network of food banks, is one of the top distributors of high-protein venison to Texans who might not know where they will get their next meal. As the Lone Star State’s largest hunger relief organization, Feeding Texas is comprised of 21 food banks across the state that serve all 254 counties. The group has been running its Hunters for the Hungry program since 2014, and since then has blessed millions of underprivileged Texas residents with venison donated by selfless hunters.
Jamie Olson, policy and advocacy director for Feeding Texas, said the process of hunters helping hungry fellow citizens is a fairly simple one. When hunters harvest deer they would like to donate to help others, they simply drop off the carcass at one of the many partner processors listed on the group’s website. Unlike similar programs in some other states, hunters aren’t asked to make a contribution when they drop off their deer. Instead, when hunters purchase their licenses, they are given the opportunity to donate to the program there and then, and those funds are used to pay the processing fees.
“The hunters are already donating the deer, so they don’t have to pay for the processing,” Olson said. “The license donation program has been able to pay for the full cost of the processing every single year. We’ve not had to go out and raise additional funds to cover the processing costs.”
Processors butcher the deer, grind the venison and pack it in the 2-pound packages provided to them by Hunters for the Hungry. A network of local food banks, which are basically regional hubs, picks up the ground venison and distributes it to more than 3,000 partner agencies—mostly churches and community centers—whose volunteers give the meat to people in need, along with other pantry staples.
While some might not think the donation makes a big impact, it actually does. According to Olson, sourcing protein is often the most expensive—and the most challenging—aspect of feeding the hungry.
“We love this program because it's a source of healthy lean protein that is completely free of charge to the food banks,” she said. “And in general, it is a really popular item for people to receive. Sometimes we even have people asking for it when they know that hunting season is coming up.”
Over the last nearly 10 years, the program has been very successful. In that time, hunters have provided hungry Texans with more than 2.7 million pounds of venison, which calculates out to nearly 11 million meals.
The program has seen steady growth since its inception and had its highest donations in 2020 during the COVID pandemic, when hunters contributed 145,000 pounds of venison, providing nearly 600,000 meals. While the post-COVID years have seen numbers drop from that, hunters still donated 87,125 pounds in 2022, enough for nearly 350,000 meals.
As for how hunters have responded to the program, the proof is in the incredible venison donations over the past nine years.
“I think the pounds speak for themselves,” Olson said. “Hunters are very generous folks, both with their deer and their dollars. This is a very popular program, and I think it will only grow in popularity as more and more people find out about it.”
What does the future hold for this outstanding Hunters for the Hungry program serving much of the Lone Star State? Well, recent events have made the future look even brighter.
“We've just launched an awareness campaign, sponsored by Tito’s Vodka, trying to increase awareness of the program,” Olson said. “They provided us funding to do paid ads in certain areas of the state in West Texas and in East Texas to try and increase the visibility of the program. We’re really appreciative of Tito’s and are hoping that the future just holds much more healthy protein.”
About the Author
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC in Jenks, Okla. An avid hunter, shooter and bird dog field-trialer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for almost 25 years.
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