Hunting season is under way. And for the holidays, hunters can help families who have been economically hard-hit by the pandemic put food on the table by donating whole deer.
One in 7 Tennesseans struggles with food insecurity, and the COVID-19 recession is expected to worsen the situation for years to come. Matt Simcox heads the Hunters for the Hungry program at the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. He said donated meat is processed, packaged and given to local hunger-relief organizations.
“All of our meat stays in Tennessee, and we try to keep it in the county where it was harvested and donated so that hunters are truly helping their neighbors in need,” Simcox said.
Currently, hunters can drop off a whole deer at no cost to them at one of 60 processors statewide. A list of participating processors is available at tnwf.org/processors.
Simcox said venison is a healthy, lean protein. He said given the rise in demand, he hopes this year hunters will surpass last year’s collection numbers.
“Last year, we collected 2,848 whole deer, which in return provided 140,401 total pounds of venison that was donated,” he said. “That went out to feed over 561,000 meals to hungry Tennesseans.”
Simcox said the Tennessee Department of Human Services recently awarded Hunters for the Hungry $160,000 to aid food-insecure populations made more vulnerable by the pandemic. The funds are being used to cover processing fees for hunters and provide extra freezer space so processors can store all the donations they receive.
He said it’s easy for hunters to help their neighbors.
“I would like just to encourage all hunters, if you’re listening to this, there’s still time to go out and make someone’s holidays merry this year by donating a deer,” Simcox said. “Every deer that’s donated will provide around 168 servings of lean protein to those who need it the most.”
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency reports hunters are harvesting more deer this year, and some officials say COVID-19-related closures have prompted more people to get out and hunt during the week.
Photo: Hunters for the Hungry volunteers deliver venison and other foods to families in need. (Tennessee Wildlife Federation)