(St.Joseph,MO) People in Missouri are no stranger to the occasional deer sighting, and in the fall hunters take to the woods to bring a few home.
David Carlisle is a Conservation Agent for the Missouri Department of Conservation and said that the deer population is typically measured by the harvest from deer hunting.
"Statewide we will usually harvest about 300,000 deer and they estimate our population to be about a million, million and a half,"Carlisle said.
To help manage the population and feed hungry families in the area, the Department of Conservation is asking area hunters to participate in the Share the Harvest program.
"Hunters can donate a portion, or an entire animal to the program where the processed meat goes to local food pantries or gets distributed to those families in need,"Carlisle said.
During the four months of deer season (September 15-January 15) , hunters can take their deer to a Share the Harvest approved processor to package the venison, typically at a reduced cost, as donation to area food banks. Hunters have the option to donate a portion of the meat or the entire deer, but all meats must meet USDA packaging regulations.
"They have to be either USDA approved or they have to be Missouri Department of Ag[riculture] approved in order to be a Share the Harvest processor,"Carlisle said.
Blake Haynes,Communications Coordinator for Second Harvest Food Bank, said fresh meat is a rare donation.
"Fresh produce and lean proteins are more a expensive item, so they are kind of scarce when it comes to food insecure individuals," Haynes said.
In previous seasons, Second Harvest has received an average of 400 to 500 pounds of deer meat from the program.
"It started out with most people just doing a portion of their kill, but now some people are going to donating a whole deer,"Carlisle said.
Ground meat might be an uncommon gift, but Haynes said it has numerous uses and even a small donation can make a big difference for families in need.
"If it's something you can't utilize or are looking to do something with, this is a great opportunity to give back to your community and help your neighbors," Haynes said.
Hunters can donate to Share the Harvest until the end of deer season on January 15. For a full list of USDA, Share the Harvest approved processors check out the Missouri Department of Conservation website.