CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s a program which feeds thousands of hungry West Virginia residents every year. Since its inception nearly three decades ago West Virginia’s Hunters Helping the Hungry Program has provided more than 25,000 deer and more than a million pounds of ground venison to the needy in West Virginia. The program will celebrate it’s 27th season in 2018.
“One adult deer provides about 35.5 pounds of ground burger. That’s enough for 142 meals and will feed a family of four for two and a half weeks,” said West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Director Steve McDaniel. “That’s just one deer. We kill close to 100,000 deer in West Virginia every year. Just think what we could do if we had the processors to handle ten percent of that.”
Donations of deer from generous hunters have never been a problem for the program. However, finding processors willing to participate in the program has been a much bigger obstacle. However, a new partnership with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture aims to change that.
“I think it’s getting a little bit easier as we work collaboratively to educate the processor on what this program is doing,” said Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt. “The program has to be a little flexible, the processor has to work and earn a living working for his customer base with custom slaughtering.”
Since the Department of Agriculture has the primary responsibility of inspecting those meat cutting operations, they have a closer working relationship with those operators than the DNR. There are rules the processors must follow to retain their certified status with the state Department of Agriculture or the USDA. As Leonhardt’s staff has communicated with processors, more are being added to the program, particularly in areas which were very much undeserved.
“We’re starting to see those new processors come on line,” said McDaniel. “These high school FFA programs have certified processors within the high school and we’re working with two of those.”
Those programs are at Cameron High School in Marshall County and Pocahontas County High School. McDaniel said they had also been able to increase the price paid for processing from $1.45/pound to $2.00/pound. The increases has helped as the number of participating processors has jumped from 14 to 18. McDaniel and Leonhardt both hope more will decide to join in.
The program takes deer donated by hunters and dropped off at a participating slaughter house. The deer are then processed and all of the meat is ground and packaged in two pound packs. Those packs are distributed across the state via the Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway and the Facing Hunger Food Bank in Huntington.
“Our work with the food banks at the department (of Agriculture) we know we’re not meeting the need,” said Leonhardt. “We’re trying and working hard and anything West Virginians can do to support the program would be a benefit.”
“We can use as many donated deer as we can get,” agreed McDaniel.
Funding for the program is also exclusively through donations. The largest fundraisers annually are the Governor’s One Shot Hunt and Share the Harvest Sunday which this years is November 4th put on by the West Virginia Council of Churches. The processing has to be paid for with donated money, by law hunting and fishing license fees cannot be used in such a way.