At Angel House Soup Kitchen in the Austin Baptist Chapel just east of downtown, Senior Pastor and Director Frank Deutsch often uses locally sourced ground venison as a key ingredient in a hearty lunchtime stew he likes to prepare for the low-income patrons who come each day.
“[The venison] is high in protein, low in fat and we have a lot of guests with high cholesterol and high blood pressure, so it’s better than beef in our stew,” he says. Deutsch procures between 250 and 300 pounds of the meat each year through the statewide effort called Hunters for the Hungry—a twenty-year-old program that allows area hunters to donate (for a nominal fee) their legally tagged, field-dressed deer at one of approximately 50 different meat processors across the state.
Celia Cole, the chief executive officer of the Texas Food Bank Network (the nonprofit organization that has administered the program since 2013), says that last year, Hunters for the Hungry helped fill a critical need for area food banks by providing nearly 150,000 pounds of venison—especially important in light of the recent budget cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). “One of the things that is most difficult for us to get is healthy, lean protein,” Cole says. “There’s a big demand for it, and it’s a critical part of a nutritious diet and something our low-income people struggle to afford.”
Charlie Ward, the chief operating officer of Capital Area Food Bank of Texas and an avid hunter himself, says he often donates one deer to the program each year, and has done so for about 15 years—since before he began working with the food bank. “Typically, I’ll harvest two deer for myself because I’m a meat hunter and I like venison,” he says. “Personally, I think it’s the right thing to do to serve the community, so I have the ability to take a third deer and I donate that to the Hunters for the Hungry program. There’s a discounted rate to have that deer processed and typically, that’s about forty-five bucks an animal, so I feel it’s well worth it.”
Cole says the goal this year is to bring in 200,000 pounds of venison by continuing to spread the word about how beneficial the Hunters for the Hungry program is for everyone involved—from freeing up valuable freezer space for hunters, to better management of deer for landowners, to providing access to a high-quality, low-fat protein source for the hungry. “It really is a program that benefits everybody who participates,” Cole says. “And it gives people a way to give back to the community—which I think is something every Texan wants to do.” —Nicole Lessin
For more information, visit hfth.tfbn.org