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Hunters help feed the needy with charitable venison donation program

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Published on: Nov. 8, 2010

St. Louis — $7 may not seem like a lot of money these days, but it can go a long way to feeding those in need, thanks to the Share the Harvest Program.

As hunters take to the woods this fall, they’ll be doing their part to help manage the deer herd. They can also help alleviate hunger in the St. Louis area with Share the Harvest.

The statewide Share the Harvest Program, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the Conservation Federation of Missouri, is a cooperative effort between hunters, meat processors and local charitable organizations. It provides food to the hungry through deer meat donated by hunters. Hunters can choose to give part or all of any deer they take. They bring their deer to an approved meat processor to process the venison, usually into ground meat, where it is then packaged for distribution.

“This is one of the programs I really enjoy working with,” said St. Charles County Conservation Agent Becky Robertson. She was instrumental in bringing two St. Charles area processors into the program for 2010. Robertson pointed out, “A deer tag for a doe is only $7, and you can feed a family for a quite while on $7.”

In the past, hunters have had to pay part of the processing costs for deer they donate to Share the Harvest. But thanks to help from two local charitable organizations, Operation Food Search and the Denny Dennis Memorial Fund, whole deer donated to approved processors will be processed completely free of charge to the hunter.

 Share the Harvest can reimburse approved processors only part of the processing fee for each whole deer given to the program. Operation Food Search will subsidize the remainder, making processing completely free for donating hunters in the St. Louis area.

Operation Food Search operates out of a 25,000 square foot warehouse facility in University City, complete with industrial-size freezers and refrigerators. The organization functions as a master pantry that provides food to some 300 food banks within a 75 mile radius of St. Louis. It obtains all food through private donations and delivers it to the food banks free of charge. This food ultimately reaches about 120,000 people in need each month.

“For them to step in and pay for that other portion, it says a lot for their operation,” said Robertson of Operation Food Search, “I think it’s important to do our best to make it free to the hunter because sometimes they don’t always have the extra $40 to $60 to have the deer processed,” she added.

Once the limits of the Share the Harvest funds are reached, another organization, the Denny Dennis Memorial Fund, will kick in to subsidize the Operation Food Search contribution. The Denny Dennis Memorial Fund is named in honor of the late founder of Denny Dennis Sporting Goods in Fenton and has been a long-time sponsor of the Share the Harvest Program.

Five St. Louis County Share the Harvest processors participate in the program and offer no cost processing for hunters donating whole deer. These include Kenrick’s Meats in St. Louis, John’s Butcher Shoppe in Overland, G&W Meats and Bavarian Sausage in South County, Max’s Meats and Deli in Florissant, and HMS Quality Meat Service of Kirkwood. In addition, Mateker’s Meat Shop in Concord Village will process deer for the cost of the skinning fee.

Two processors in Jefferson County, Dittmer Meat Packing of Dittmer and John’s Butcher Shop in Arnold, will also process free of charge whole deer donated to the Share the Harvest Program.

New for 2010, hunters can now bring their deer to either of two St. Charles County processors, Dan’s Country Meats of New Melle or Josephville Meat Processing in Wentzville, for free processing under the Share the Harvest Program.

By subsidizing the cost of processing, Operation Food Search and the Denny Dennis Memorial Fund make it easier for St. Louis area hunters to donate deer for the Share the Harvest Program.

“There are people everywhere who are struggling and need the help” noted Robertson, “It does make you feel good to know that working for the Department, not only are you doing the deer management side of it, but you’re also helping to feed people who need food.”

To learn more about Operation Food Search, go to their website at www.ofsearch.org , or phone 314-726-5355. More information about the Share the Harvest Program can be found at the MDC's website, www.mdc.mo.gov, by searching keywords “share harvest”, or by calling the Conservation Federation of Missouri at 573-634-2322.

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