ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Although $7 may not seem like a lot of money these days, it can indeed be a lucky number for families in need, thanks to the Share the Harvest Program.
Missouri's firearms deer season runs from Nov. 14 through Nov. 24 this year. As hunters take to the woods, they'll be doing their part to help manage the deer herd. They can also help alleviate hunger in the St. Louis area by sharing their harvest.
The statewide Share the Harvest Program is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM). CFM is a private organization made up of thousands of citizen conservationists who work together to better Missouri's outdoor resources.
Share the Harvest 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 harvest. They bring their deer to an approved meat processor to process the venison, usually into ground meat, where it is then packaged for distribution. In 2014, 3,967 hunters participated, donating 213,443 pounds of venison and improving the quality of life for countless Missouri families.
"This is one of my favorite programs," said St. Charles County Conservation Agent Becky Robertson. "An antlerless deer permit 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 hunters donating in the St. Louis area.
The following is a list of meat processors in the St. Louis Region that offer no cost processing for hunters donating whole deer.
For a statewide list of all Share the Harvest processors, go to huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/species/deer/deer-share-harvest. Each processor on the list is at least partially compensated for by Share the Harvest funds. Some, as in the case of those listed above, may also receive supplemental funds to make processing completely free for the hunter.
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. "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."
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.
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 operationfoodsearch.org/, or phone 314-726-5355.
More information about the Share the Harvest Program can be found at the MDC website, mdc.mo.gov/node/2544, or by calling CFM at 573-634-2322.