By Mannix Porterfield
Not every buck dragged out of West Virginia’s rugged, mountainous terrain winds up in a hunter’s freezer to help his family get through the dismal months of winter.
In fact, much of the venison is passed out to needy families across the state in the “Helping the Hungry” program, inaugurated 21 years ago by the state Division of Natural Resources.
Since its inception, the program has witnessed some 1,091,000 meals provided to those in want.
“It’s a really good program,” the DNR’s public relations director, Hoy Murphy, said Wednesday.
“People like to hunt. But if they get more meat than they can put in their freezer, it’s a good idea to give it away to somebody who can use it. For a lot of people, this is the only red meat they get all year.”
Hunters in southern counties have only one location to turn in unwanted deer, and that one is Taylor’s Meat Cutting at Spanishburg in Mercer County. No other processors are involved in the program in the DNR’s District 4.
Murphy said the DNR has encountered a problem in finding enough processors around the state to participate, given the fact that most are overwhelmed this time of year, especially during the two-weeks firearms season. District 4 embraces Fayette, Greenbrier, Raleigh, Wyoming, McDowell, Mercer, Summers and Monroe.
All deer donated by hunters, once processed, is shipped in 2-pound packages to the Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway or the Hunting Food Bank.
From there, it is distributed to regional food banks or kitchens, which decided how much is provided to individuals.
“Anyone in the state has access to the free deer, but they have to work through their local food bank or food kitchen, or something like that,” Murphy said.
One needn’t tote a rifle into the forests to give the less fortunate a hand, either.
“The program takes donations or meat but also donations of dollars,” Murphy said.
“The DNR administers the program, but we do not provide any funding for it. It’s all donations. The processors either donate their time, or a processing fee is set and they’re paid through donations given to the program.”
Doing its part, the West Virginia Council of Churches since 1999, has sponsored the Share the Harvest Sunday to generate funds for the program.
“Many churches around the state have received a personalized letter asking them to voluntary donations from their congregation during this Sunday,” said Gene Thorn, who coordinates Hunters Helping the Hungry.
Some 3,000 churches across West Virginia were invited to take part during the Nov. 4 worship services.
If anyone missed the appeal, a donation can be made by visiting www.wvdnr.gov/Hunting/HHH.shtm.
“Anyone can donate to the program,” Murphy said. “It’s really a good program.”
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