OVERLAND, Mo.—By sharing their harvest, Missouri hunters can put meat on the table for those most in need. And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing in the Show-Me-State for nearly 30 years.
The Share the Harvest program is a partnership between the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM), cooperating meat processors, and hunters. It’s a charitable venison donation campaign that began in 1992. The program enables willing hunters to donate either part of or the entire deer they harvest to feed families in need.
The St. Louis area is fortunate to have another key partner in the program, Operation Food Search (OFS). Thanks to OFS, St. Louis area hunters donating whole deer through Share the Harvest can do so with no processing fees.
OFS operates from a 67,000 square foot facility and warehouse at 1644 Lotsie Boulevard in Overland. The non-profit hunger relief organization feeds 200,000 people in need each month through over 200 outlets in the metro area. Their clients are thrilled to receive fresh venison.
“A lot of our community food partners are always asking for deer meat, it’s a hot commodity item and its actually very valuable,” said Jack Baran, OFS Food Donations Manager. “Protein is one of the most expensive items and the number one in demand,” he explained.
OFS functions as a hub for the donated venison, distributing it to food pantries, faith-based organizations, and homeless shelters to feed those in need. It also helps fund the program.
Meat processors typically charge around $100 to process a deer into ready-to-prepare meat. The CFM has funding to cover $60 for hunters donating whole deer statewide. Cooperating processors in St. Louis City and St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson Counties agree to cap their deer processing fees at $80 per deer. Operation Food Search also contributes $20 per deer, completely offsetting the processing fee for donating hunters. All members in the partnership work together to completely absorb the costs for hunters who donate their deer.
“Operation Food Search is helping reduce costs for hunters who want to donate whole deer to Share the Harvest, so it’s easier for them to participate,” MDC Conservation Agent Jeff Breuer said. Breuer is stationed in St. Louis County and has been working with OFS on the program for four years.
Breuer added that besides capping their fees, the meat processors play an important role in holding the deer meat until it can get picked up and dispersed to the community food partners.
“These partners are helping out the entire region and definitely are making a difference,” said Breuer.
In addition to providing food, OFS works to educate clients on food preparation both at their own facility, and on-site at their food partners’ locations. Baran said the recipes OFS educators offer for dishes like deer chili, enchiladas and tacos help clients unfamiliar with preparing deer meat get the most out of the low fat, protein-packed venison.
“They go beyond the Share the Harvest program and they’re helping out with hunger every day,” said Breuer of OFS.
Last year, over 300 deer were donated by Missouri hunters to OFS through Share the Harvest.
“I think our local hunters are the most important people in this partnership and we couldn’t do it without them,” Baran stressed. “We’re very lucky and grateful they’re part of this program.”
Agent Breuer said he experiences a personal sense of reward by having a role in the Share the Harvest program. “I feel like a very small part of it, but I think it’s a big difference.,” he said. “When you can help out your fellow man it makes you feel good.”
For more details on the Share the Harvest program, and a complete list of approved meat processors, go to https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zoz.