Farmers and hunters: Feeding the hungry

(Photo by Chip Gross)

Twenty years ago this fall, Rick Wilson was driving along a Virginia highway when he spotted a woman standing beside a car with the trunk open. “From the way she was dressed and by the appearance of the car, it looked like she was not doing too well financially,” Wilson says. “When I stopped and asked if her car was broken down, she said, ‘No, but could you please help me load a deer into the trunk?’”

A dead six-point buck lay beside the road, and Wilson asked the woman if she had hit it with her car. When she shook her head no, Wilson explained that unless she first reported the deer to the state police or a wildlife officer, she could be issued a citation for transporting an untagged deer.

“She looked into my eyes,” remembers Wilson, “and slowly answered, ‘I don’t care. My kids and me are hungry.’”

Thus was born a national organization — Farmers & Hunters Feeding the Hungry — that during the past two decades has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of needy people across America.

Hunters in some parts of the country, including in Ohio, are able to harvest more deer than they can eat or share with their friends and family. In addition, farmers are issued management permits to reduce deer numbers that damage their crops. The way the FHFH program works is that those farmers and hunters are encouraged to donate their deer, other big game, or livestock, to approved meat processors that participate with FHFH. The venison and other meat is then given to community agencies such as food pantries, church feeding ministries, the Salvation Army, community food banks, emergency assistance programs, rescue missions, and children’s homes to distribute or serve to their clients.

“Our organization has been in Ohio since 2001,” says Josh Wilson, executive director of FHFH and son of the founder, Rick Wilson. “Thus far, we are close to 900,000 pounds of meat donated and distributed to local feeding programs in the Buckeye State, enough for 3.6 million quarter-pound servings.”

There are FHFH chapters in 30 states, with 31 chapters in Ohio — the most of any state. The Ohio Division of Wildlife makes an annual matching grant to FHFH, totaling over $700,000 since 2008.

Hunters who would like to donate a deer this hunting season, or farmers who would like to donate a livestock animal, should go online to www.fhfh.org/ohio or call 866-438-3434 for more details. There is no charge to donate, financial support is welcome, and volunteers are always needed.