by Jim Zumbo - Thursday, January 11, 2024
Above: Author and hunt volunteer Jim Zumbo, left, joins Guillermo “T.J.” Tejada, veteran and Purple Heart recipient, and Tom Snyder, Trinity Oaks Founder, at one of the many outdoor events hosted by the organization.
Tom Snyder was raised in a poor South Texas household where his family required welfare to make ends meet. He loved the outdoors but couldn’t afford to pay the fees required to hunt. Since most of the land in Texas is leased, he dared to hunt on properties without permission when he was a youngster. He was caught and paid fines for trespassing.
“After getting caught a couple times in my early teens I made a commitment to myself that if I ever got to a point where I could afford it, I’d use my resources to take kids hunting so they wouldn’t have to do what I did,” Snyder said.
Fifteen years later, the stars lined up for Snyder. He was running a highly successful business and could afford to realize his early visions, but he never considered getting into the world of nonprofit foundations. All he wanted to do was write a check to an organization that mentored kids who wanted to hunt and spend time in the outdoors.
“I found some groups that worked with kids but was surprised that the children had to pay to participate,” Snyder explained. “When I asked why, they indicated they had significant overhead and the revenue would be used to cover salaries and expenses.”
That didn’t sit well with him. Again, he thought of his adolescent years when his family had no disposable income and he had to resort to poaching. In his mind, the necessity to pay meant that many children would never be able to enjoy the outdoors because their families couldn’t afford it.
Frustrated, Tom enlisted the help of his brother, Mike, in his faith-based mission. “How hard can this be?” he asked. “All we want to do is take some underprivileged kids hunting.” Their business grew, and Tom attributed much of his success to building relationships with clients in the outdoors. He leased a large ranch, which finally afforded him the opportunity to take kids hunting.
“We took 12 kids the first year, 50 the second, and more than a hundred the third,” Tom said. “We ran them through Hunter Safety, bought their licenses, had the meat processed and the animal mounted. We gave the guns they hunted with to their families so they could continue hunting. My lawyer and CPA told me I was an idiot to finance these hunts. They said I couldn’t continue to write checks out of my company funds to pay expenses and suggested I find a charity to partner with or start one.”
Snyder launched Trinity Oaks Outdoors in 2007. Soon he received a call from a veterans’ group that heard he was taking kids hunting. They wanted to know if he’d also consider taking veterans who had been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Snyder never hesitated and said they were definitely interested. Trinity Oaks then began working with combat-injured veterans.
“We were also asked if we’d take terminally ill children on hunts since Make A Wish was no longer taking kids on trips involving hunting and shooting,” Snyder said. “I was told that a 9-year-old boy who was battling brain cancer dreamed of going hunting. Though I consider Make A Wish a fine foundation, I was disappointed at its policy of turning down hunters so I reached out and worked with this young man. That hunt led to the establishment of ‘Dream Trips’ where we take children and adults who are battling life-threatening illnesses hunting.”
Trinity Oaks also has the StarKids program, which is a special initiative to support the sons and daughters who have lost parents serving as first responders and combat veterans.
“We understand that losing a parent has a profound impact on a child’s life,” Snyder said. “And when the loss occurs because of their hero-parent’s selfless service, the trauma is even greater.” Each StarKid is paired with a mentor from their fallen first responder’s agency or military branch, and then they embark on a one-of-a-kind outdoor adventure together.
Snyder learned that a building requiring extensive work was for sale in Port Mansfield, Texas. His 17-year-old niece, Paige, was diagnosed with leukemia during this time. She loved to fish. Snyder bought the building, which had a long fishing pier, and with help from many volunteers converted the structure into a lovely home that accommodates 16 people. Many outings for veterans and underprivileged and ill children and adults are held at what he named “Paige’s Place” each year. Tragically, Paige passed away from the disease.
Realizing that many people in the area were poor, Snyder decided to establish a facility where deer and other large wild animals could be processed and the meat distributed to the needy. Venison was ground into burger by volunteers and given to those who needed it. When hunters across Texas learned about the program they rallied and brought literally tons of deer to the facility to support the Hunters for the Hungry movement.
“We had so many recipients who had no freezers that we began working with churches, orphanages and faith-based groups to distribute the meat,” Snyder said. Because of the huge volume of meat, which often amounted to more than 200,000 pounds of ground venison annually—and ultimately totaled 1 million pounds over a multi-year effort, Snyder decided to turn over the project to a local food bank. Trinity Oaks helped to develop the food bank facility and trained its personnel.
Now, 17 years after Trinity Oaks was established, the foundation is rolling along at amazing levels. In an average year, more than 3,500 youngsters and 1,500 veterans are introduced to the outdoors, and more than 60 Dream Trips are taken. All this is because of the donors who financially support the foundation as well as the hard work of hundreds of Texas volunteers who selflessly give their time and energy to help less fortunate or ill folks or those who are combat-injured.
Tom Snyder’s dream not only came true, it opened the door to the outdoors to tens of thousands of people. And very importantly, it provided a way to follow an honest path to the woods and fields without having to resort to trespassing. That, in a nutshell, has always been Snyder’s major objective.
For more information on Trinity Oaks Outdoors and its faith-based mission to use outdoor activities to foster hope and make a difference in the lives of youth, veterans, first responders and those suffering from life-threatening illnesses, visit trinityoaks.org. For a list of upcoming events, click here.
About the Author
Hunting icon Jim Zumbo is an accomplished Western big-game hunter who also has hunted deer in all 50 states. Backed by two degrees in forestry and wildlife, he has had more than 2,000 articles published in outdoor publications, written 23 hunting books and conducted hunting seminars nationwide for hunter-backed organizations, including the NRA. In addition to serving as a full-time writer/editor for Outdoor Life magazine for 30 years, most of them as hunting editor, he was the host of “Jim Zumbo Outdoors” on the Outdoor Channel. An NRA Benefactor Life member, Zumbo has won numerous writing awards and is active with several conservation groups, including serving three terms on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Board. His biography, Zumbo, Based on the True Story of Jim Zumbo and His Blog Heard Around the World by K.J. Houtman, was released in November 2016.
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