Food banks and pantries are experiencing shortages that hunters can help mitigate
With fall here and big game hunting seasons in full swing, it’s a great time to remind everyone of the growing demand at food pantries and food banks. Donating wild game meat is an excellent way we can help out and make a difference.
As you may be aware, wild game meat can be one of the most affordable food sources around. In my experience, for under $100, I can not only feed my family but also give away enough meat to help support many more families in my community. Along with home gardens and raising livestock, it has the potential to not only create a bond with the food itself but with the land and waters from which we source it. This creates a real and lasting value in the wild places we all cherish and hope to protect.
Increasing costs at the grocery store are a daily reminder that food takes a toll on family budgets, an ever-increasing pressure on our communities as the people who call these places home struggle to survive.
Having a program where donated wild game meat is directly helping families is vital to our community’s well-being. Small towns across the nation are facing uncertain futures, but food insecurity for those residents who keep our economies running doesn’t have to be so commonplace. Those of us who are consumers of the wild can provide a much-appreciated source of healthy food and enjoy all the time we get to spend outdoors in pursuit of traditional pastimes like hunting and fishing.
Hunters can increase positive impacts in local communities through food banks
As hunter numbers across the nation continue to stagnate or decline, hunters can increase positive impact within our communities and win others to the cause of conservation. How? By addressing an acute need for healthy food for those less fortunate.
In the same way that our farmers and ranchers play a vital role in our food sourcing, so to can those who pursue wild game. Through donations of wild-harvested food, we not only provide sustenance but also help to reshape the somewhat tarnished image of the modern conservationist in popular society today. By reaffirming our traditional roles as community food providers, we also help ensure a strong positive presence with new generations of potential outdoor-minded people.
Antlerless tags are leftover and available every year in most places we hunt.
In my home state of Colorado, I can pursue a bull or a buck on an A-list tag and still purchase a B-list tag for antlerless opportunities. When you include possible private land tags, the opportunities get even greater. Not only does this give me more incentive to spend time outdoors, but also explore new areas, or perhaps help a landowner who has a game damage conflict, by helping reduce unwanted wildlife eating into his ranch profits.
Consider donating just 1% of your game meat
According to the statistics from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in my region, over 2,100 elk were legally harvested last year. If the average elk yield is 375 pounds of bone-in weight, that means my valley alone produced 787,500 pounds of sustainable, healthy elk meat last year. If everyone who harvested an elk donated even 1 percent, that would amount to over 3 tons of elk meat. If the average family meal consists of 20 ounces of meat, that would yield over 6,000 meals for people who may not have otherwise had a healthy, wholesome meal.
Let’s be honest. Who can’t afford to donate at least 1 percent? When we factor in other game meats, you can see how significant an impact those of us who hunt can potentially have within our communities.
Hunters should encourage each other to make food bank donations
In the same way it’s vital for conservationists to continue to emphasize the importance of our role in helping manage and protect our wild food sources, it’s obvious to me an overdue topic among hunters is how we can encourage more food donations. While most of us consider the game in our freezers a most cherished of seasonal foods, showing consideration to those who don’t have access or are otherwise unable to partake is a powerful tool to foster relationships and recruit others to our waning traditions.
I give away a portion of my wild game to friends and family every year. As I survey my freezer, I find meat still from prior harvests, and it reaffirms that I can give more. We can all afford to give more; in the United States, we throw away 40 percent of our food annually. Why take the risk of freezer-burning meat when there is a growing need in our hometowns? I may not have more new family members and friends, but I sure do know more people who want and need wholesome food.
Local food banks have growing needs for donations
In a recent conversation I had with Katie Dix, the Executive Director of the Gunnison Country Food Pantry (GCFP), she shared some interesting data. A full third of Gunnison County residents qualify for food assistance by State of Colorado guidelines. Additionally, the GCFP experiences an increase in food assistance requests by about 7 percent annually. Dix also said it is anticipated that this year our local food pantry will serve over 900 households with more than 5,000 requests for assistance.
With growing food insecurity issues especially in rural areas, having locally sourced foods has become more important than ever. While most healthy food options continue to increase in price in stores, those folks on fixed or low incomes find themselves forced to settle for less healthy and less wholesome meal options. That’s where local food panties can be a huge driver of not only public health but also community spirit. Some food banks and food pantries have programs in place that allow wild foods for their recipients.
“A lot of our long-time recipients are truly delighted when we can offer them wild game meat,” Dix said. “These are traditional family foods that are no longer an option for these families outside of the donation program.”
With an average donation of only one to two game animals a year to the GCFP, the supply doesn’t even come close to the demand. We are watching people do without a food source that they cherish because of circumstances outside of their control and a lack of donations by the rest of us.
Continuing the legacy of wildlife conservation
The conservation heritage we possess can disappear in a single generation if we don’t all pitch in.
Not only does the memory of wild food become lost within the family unit, but the act of stewardship that is instilled in ethical, sustainable wild food harvests can also disappear. This lack then becomes a profound loss to our communities and to our culture. By reinserting these traditional wild foods to families who are currently doing without, we are helping people come home to their ancestral foods and family heritage all while reestablishing the importance of the lands, waters, and animals that rightfully have shaped our collective societal memories for thousands of years.
How to donate wild game to food banks
A person who has a successful harvest can contact their local food pantry or food bank for specific procedures that ensure any extra meat from their outdoor experience is delivered to families in need. Some food pantries and food banks have specific funds in place for helping pay for processing costs, as any meat donations must be from USDA-certified processors.
Monetary donations can be specifically set aside for wild game donation programs, helping to bolster and increase the productivity of these game donation programs, and incentivizing food panties to continue to offer these types of programs in the future.
If the local food pantry or food bank in your area doesn’t have a program in place for wild game, then consider helping to get one started. Local conservation groups can be a good place to start. Their motivated members can spread the word and do some of the work of getting it operational. Even if your season doesn’t go as planned, and perhaps “tag soup” is on the menu at home, consider giving a donation to your local food pantry or food bank. Monetary and nonperishable food donations are always welcome and appreciated.
Conservation champions help their local communities, too
To be an ambassador for and a champion of this amazing conservation heritage should be a lofty goal. As a nation, we worked hard to help re-establish wildlife populations across the land. While a new generation may not fully be aware of the decades-long work that now provides a wild bounty of game meat throughout our nation, let’s honor those past commitments and visions by sharing and honoring those wild foods we all enjoy with those less fortunate.
A great way all of us can have a meaningful impact on those who don’t yet understand this important resource would be to not only spread the word on how great wild foods are but to actively give that blessing freely to those who don’t have the financial ability to harvest it for themselves. In time, perhaps those that we give to will become yet another generation of champions and ambassadors of the importance of sustainable wild foods.
Why not do what you can to help ensure that those with food concerns in your community have healthier, sustainable meals? Provide a wild donation to your local food pantry or food bank today.