With the nine-day deer gun hunt opening on Saturday, area food pantries look forward to venison donations from generous hunters through the Hunt for the Hungry program.
“It’s a very valuable program for the food pantry,” said Sandi Soik, director of the Lakeshore Community Action Program (CAP) in Sturgeon Bay, which operates a food pantry. “Last year we received more than 650 pounds. What’s wonderful, it’s all packaged and ready for the freezer, if not already frozen.”
Stella Huff of Feed and Clothe My People in Sturgeon Bay said their food pantry usually receives between 300 and 500 pounds of venison, which is down she said from the heyday of the program at the turn of the century.
Soik said the older CAP pantry clients particularly enjoy receiving the venison. “Many of them were hunters and may not be able to hunt now, so enjoy getting venison. People look forward to it.”
Meat processors throughout the state participate in the program. Hunters simply bring the field dressed carcass of a Wisconsin deer to a participating processor and let them know it’s for the Hunt for the Hungry program to qualify for free processing.
Since the deer donation program began in 2000, hunters have donated more than 90,000 deer that were processed into more than 3.6 million pounds of ground venison.
Two processors participate in the program in Door County – Haberli’s Deer Processing, 4259 Haberli Road, Sturgeon Bay, 920.743.5736; and Marchants Foods, 1367 County DK, Brussels, 920.825.1244.
In Kewaunee County, They’s Venison Processing in Casco is participating.
Craig Robbins, director of Paul’s Pantry in Green Bay, said the deer hunt program is a very welcome addition to the pantry’s offerings.
“Hunters are able to enjoy their sport and help the state reduce the herd population, and it feeds low-income families, so it’s a win-win for everyone,” he said. “It’s good stuff. It’s higher in protein and lower in fat than beef. By processing it all into burger, it goes a lot farther, rather than giving everyone tenderloins or something.”
Robbins added that the pantry used to get a lot more venison in the early 2000s when the Earn a Buck program was going on.
“We were getting a lot of deer donations. You had to take a doe before you could take a buck, so people would donate a lot more,” he said. “We filled a 53-foot trailer opening weekend. We don’t see anything like that any more.”
Non-hunters can also donate to the program to help pay for processing fees on the DNR hunting website (dnr.wi.gov/gowild).
And this is the time of year when more people are in need of food pantries, Soik pointed out.
“Our heating bills are going up now, people are laid off and living on unemployment,” she said. “Everything is just more expensive in the winter. If one thing goes wrong, it’s kind of a snowball effect. If you qualify, come to the pantry and use that money toward your rent or heat or whatever you need.”
She also notes that while half of the food they offer to clients comes from the USDA Commodities program, that has to be matched through donations.
“If we get monetary donations, we buy from Feeding America,” she said. “From 19 to 25 cents a pound, we get big banana boxes of beef and pork and chicken, everything from hamburger to T-bone steaks, so it’s a great, great buy. A dollar goes a long ways with them.”
Huff said with the holidays coming up, some people like to donate gift cards to local supermarkets so clients can shop for their own holiday dinner.
And, of course, donations of non-perishable food items are always appreciated by area food pantries.