Helpful hunters can feed the region’s hungry
ALPENA — Eighty thousand pounds of meat can fill a lot of stomachs.
Unneeded venison from Michigan woods, donated by hunters and deer management programs, is processed by companies like Standard Provision in Alpena and used to feed those in need through the efforts of a group called Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger.
The organization connects processors with local food banks, pantries, and shelters and reimburses the processors for their work through state funding and private donations.
Last year, Standard Provision produced 8,825 pounds of venison that fed Northeast Michiganders receiving food from Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul, and other food banks in the four-county region.
Standard Provision processes a vast amount of venison because of the extent of wildlife management efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in northern Michigan, according to Dean Hall, executive director of Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger.
Deer donations to the program have skyrocketed this year, Hall said. Already, 80,000 pounds have been processed across the state.
In 2019, fewer than 60,000 pounds were donated, and that was double what was donated two years previously.
Donation numbers are rising because of a need for increased wildlife management to keep the deer population healthy and to stop increasing spread into urban areas, Hall explained.
Plus, he said, “Hunters are becoming very generous.”
The money to reimburse processors comes from donations made when hunters purchase licenses, and from donations made directly to the organization’s website.
This year, with the high donation volume, the program ran out of reimbursement money by mid-year, Hall said.
An appeal to legislators freed up a bit more cash, but that’s almost gone, as well,’ and can’t be used to reimburse Standard Provision in Alpena because it’s been promised elsewhere.
Companies like Standard Provision usually charge $75 to $90 for a deer, Hall said. Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger reimburses $50 per deer, so processors are already taking a loss so they can donate to the community.
Not being reimbursed means they are out more money, but many processors are continuing to donate meat, Hall said.
It’s not unusual for his company to process 300 to 400 management deer a year to be given to local people in need, according to Tom Shooks, owner of Standard Provision. His company doesn’t accept donation meat during hunting season.
Bucky’s Meats in Lachine is a drop-off center for hunters who have a deer they don’t need for meat.
The company took in seven or eight full deer during last year’s hunting season, according to owner Alisha Manning.
Hunters who donate a full deer don’t have to pay for processing. Some, who do pay for their deer to be processed, choose to keep the steaks and loins but donate the burger to a local shelter.
“People need food,” especially in a northern Michigan winter, said Manning.
Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger officials estimate they have fed nearly 3 million hungry people in Michigan as of the end of 2019.
“It’s something that’s very important, something that’s needed,” Hall said. “We fulfill our role for the human race.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jriddleX.