Missouri hunters are a generous group, donating nearly 350-thousand pounds of deer meat statewide.
While deer season is over, Operation Food Search is receiving deer meat on a weekly basis. Operation Food Search then distributes this to food pantries across the region.
Since January, pallets of deer meat have been delivered to Operation Food Search headquarters, thanks to Missouri hunters and a partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation.
“A lot of hunters hunt deer they don’t want to take home to their families and they donate the deer to butchers that process the deer meat,” says Kristen Wild, executive director of Operation Food Search. “They grind it up into usable packages, deer steak, deer roast. And then we pay the processing fee, 20 dollars per deer. Then that gets donated here and we’re able to donate to our 200 partner agencies.”
Last year, 329 full deer were donated. Statewide, 6,795 whole deer were donated.
The hunger-relief organization distributes to about 200 food partners like pantries, shelters and transitional homes. They also teach nutrition education, like how to cook with deer meat.
“As much as possible we like to provide healthy fresh foods like protein. So, this deer meat is a hot commodity,” says Wild. “Our food education department does food demonstrations and provides recipes. So deer meat isn’t always at the top of someone’s list they want to use in a recipe because they’re not familiar with it. But when our nutritionists are sampling venison chili or venison tacos it becomes more appealing.”
All deer donated by hunters have to undergo rigorous testing by the conservation department that they meet federal standards.
Share the harvest has been donating deer meat since 1992.
“It’s helpful to ensure there’s not food waste with the deer meat not going utilized,” says Wild. “It allows hunters to give back to the community. It’s a source of revenue for the butchers who do receive the processing fees and it’s certainly a victory for the people who ultimately receive the deer meat.”