St. LOUIS, Mo.—One of the great traditions of hunting is feeding family. This holiday season was made a little brighter for some families in need, thanks to the help of St. Louis area hunters, Operation Food Search (OFS), and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).
Missouri’s Share the Harvest program is sponsored by MDC and the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM). It enables hunters to donate deer they harvest to help feed their neighbors who need it.
“Share the Harvest is an operation where the hunters bring a deer into the processor, the processor processes the deer, and through cooperation with OFS, we get it distributed to food panties to help feed the hungry,” said St. Charles County Conservation Agent Becky Robertson.
“This is also a management tool for the conservation department,” Robertson said. “So not only are we helping feed the hungry, but we are managing the deer herd, too.”
“OFS has benefitted greatly from this partnership,” explained Craig Goldfarb, OFS Director of Operations. “We’ve gotten thousands of pounds of good protein, which flows through our organization, to people who really do need it.”
OFS operates from a newly-built 67,000 square foot facility and warehouse in Overland. It’s a hunger relief organization that feeds 200,000 people in need each month through over 200 outlets in the metro area. Since Share the Harvest funds can afford to reimburse approved processors only part of the processing fee, OFS subsidizes the remainder in the St. Louis area. This makes processing completely free if a hunter donates a whole deer to the program.
Goldfarb said that OFS receives an average of 10-15,000 pounds of deer meat a year from the program, enough he estimates to feed at least 500 families.
“I love deer meat. It’s good stuff,” said Jim, one of the recipients of Share the Harvest venison. “I’ve been eating it for years and years and it’s just natural, and good for you.”
Jim is a client of the Saints Joachim & Ann Care Service Food Pantry in St. Peters. The pantry has been distributing food each week to low-income families and others in need since 1981.
“In the winter time, we always went hunting and got our own deer. So it was just something I was raised on,” said Jim, a hunter himself, who intends to use the venison he received to make stew or chili.
“I think this is a very good resource for people who need food, and for the hunters to help out that’s a good deal. It means a lot to everyone.”
Chili is also on the menu for Monica’s family, another visitor to the pantry. “I plan on making deer-meat chili while the weather’s cold. I’ll make a big pot of it, and take some to work, too,” she said. Breakfast sausage, chorizo and spaghetti sauce are also uses Monica finds for the venison she gets. “It’s definitely a lot leaner than cow meat, and a lot healthier than pork.”
Rebecca, another pantry client, brings home deer meat whenever it’s available for her husband and two children. She uses it like ground beef for meatloaf and deer burgers. One of her favorites though is mixing venison with Italian sausage to make lasagna. “We’re happy to have it as a resource to use for our family,” she said.
“I love this program because you see the end result of people who need this meat receiving it and feeding many families throughout the state,” said Agent Robertson.
“Hunters are making a huge difference in people’s lives.”
For more information on the Share the Harvest Program, including a statewide list of meat processors participating in the Share the Harvest Program, go to https://huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/species/deer/deer-share-harvest.