In the early 1990s, archery hunters around Columbia, Mo., came up with the outstanding idea of “sharing” some of the deer meat they harvested with needy families in the area. This was the start of what became the Share the Harvest Program in Missouri.
The first year, Share the Harvest resulted in the charitable donation of about 3,000 pounds of venison. Last year, the amount was more than 260,000 pounds of mostly ground venison.
That is a lot of burger!
We had to overcome a lot of obstacles to develop the state-wide program that now involves 118 deer processors, as well as thousands of hunters and volunteers. The Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM) took a strong leadership role in working with the departments of Conservation and Agriculture, as well as charitable organizations and food pantries, sportsman’s groups and private individuals, to efficiently put the donations of hunters into the hands of the needy.
The Share the Harvest Program now makes it easy for hunters to donate venison to charity. A hunter harvests a deer and takes it to one of the participating processors listed in the Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting pamphlet. These are available where permits are sold or at any Conservation Department office or online at mdc.mo.gov/cgi-bin/share/harvest.cgi.
The hunter may then make a partial donation by simply telling the processor to take a certain amount of meat (2 pounds, for example) from his deer for Share the Harvest. The processor sets aside that meat and combines it with other donations before grinding it up and placing it into 1-pound packages for freezing. When the hunter picks up his deer meat, he pays the standard processing costs.
If the hunter elects to donate the entire deer, $35 of the processing fees are provided by a statewide fund administered by the CFM. Originally this fund was supplied solely by Shelter Insurance. As the demands for this fund grew, the CFM, the Missouri Department of Conservation, Shelter Insurance, Bass Pro Shop, and Whitetails Unlimited became statewide sponsors.
In addition, many processors offer a reduction from their normal processing rate when a whole deer is donated to Share the Harvest as their way of contributing to area people in need.
Money from local funds may be available to further reduce the processing fee. Safari Club International, Wal-Mart, White River Electrical Co-Op and others also have raised funds to support their specific local programs.
The result is that in many locations whole deer donations can be processed at no cost to hunters. Find out what level of funding is available in your area by calling local processors listed in the Deer and Turkey Hunting pamphlet.
Although Share the Harvest simplifies the process of hunters donating meat to the needy, the program’s underpinnings require multiple organizations working in concert with the program’s cosponsors, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Conservation Federation of Missouri.
Each local program requires three cooperating components: a processor, a coordinating organization and a distributing organization. Deer processors must be licensed and must be inspected by health department officials to determine that the deer meat is being handled in a sanitary manner.
The charitable organization, which may be a local service club or other community oriented group, promotes the program locally, keeps records of deer donations and transfers venison from the processor to the distributing organization. The latter actually gives the finished frozen packages of venison to needy families and individuals. Good examples of distributing organizations are food pantries, the St. Vincent DePaul society and church groups.
The Wildlife Code of Missouri allows only the taker of wildlife to give it away. However, an exception has been created to allow that commercially processed deer meat may be donated to not-for-profit charitable organizations under guidelines established by the director of the Missouri Department of Conservation.
In addition, all organizations helping with the program must be approved annually by the local conservation agent to assure accountability.
The Share the Harvest Program is extremely useful in the Conservation Department’s management of Missouri’s deer population.
The Department works with the Conservation Federation to target areas with high deer numbers by increasing local processing-cost incentives and Share the Harvest promotional campaigns. This results in an increased harvest in areas where deer populations are high.
Urban parts of the state are an excellent example. A special hunt for antlerless deer only is held early in the fall before the regular firearms deer season in selected counties where deer numbers need to be reduced. Thanks to the help of local sponsors, all processing costs for deer taken during the Urban Counties Portion of the Firearms Deer season are covered. Hunters pay only for permits and equipment.
If you are a charitable organization and would like to be involved as a coordinating organization or a distributing organization, or would like to help raise funds locally for the program, please contact your local conservation agent for approval and details. Conservation agents also are the contact for deer processors that would like to participate in the program.
Deer hunters who would like to donate a portion of their take or an entire deer can refer to the Share the Harvest listing in the Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting pamphlet to find participating processors. Outdoor clubs or organizations, businesses, or individuals who wish to help fund the program locally or statewide can contact their conservation agent or contact the Conservation Federation of Missouri at (573) 634-2322, or online.
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