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Hunters supply meat to the needy

When Frank Moran shot a mule deer during a hunting trip in Montana, there was no question what he would do with the venison.

Moran took the deer to a meat processor, paid $70 for butchering and then returned home to Sacramento, Calif. When the venison had been ground and wrapped, it went into a freezer at the Gallatin Valley Food Bank in Bozeman.

Over the coming months, the Montana food bank and other charities nationwide will distribute thousands of pounds of game meat provided by hunters. For years, sportsmen have donated their harvests. This hunting season the meat comes at a time of rising need, with food banks across the country reporting increases in people asking for help.

In Jackson County, ACCESS Inc. receives about 200 pounds of donated meat annually, says Vicki Penny, foodshare coordinator for the nonprofit relief agency.

"It's mostly venison," she says, adding that donations primarily come from individual hunters. "We do get donations from the Oregon State Police. Sometimes when they have a poaching case, they'll save the meat until after the trial and give it to us."

Penny says ACCESS requires donated meat to come from a certified butcher because of safety concerns with some home-cut meat.

The anti-hunger Food Research and Action Center says economic conditions could boost meat-donation numbers in 2007. Operators of food banks say there's no question increases are occurring.

"Believe me, (game) is a valuable product," says Ross Fraser of America's Second Harvest-The Nation's Food Bank Network, the Chicago relief organization with more than 200 food-bank affiliates nationwide. "High-protein foods are the hardest foods for our food banks to come by."

Fraser says he does not know how much game food banks receive. But, in Montana, the Butte Emergency Food Bank reported it received 7,500 pounds of game in 2006 and close to that this year, including meat from six elk killed illegally and confiscated by state wardens.

Moran, a retired school facilities planner, shot his deer Nov. 19 during a professionally guided hunt that was a gift from his son.

"Based upon the time I was going to be in Montana, if I'd wanted to have it butchered and packaged and ready for me to take home, I didn't have that kind of time," Moran said recently.

Even without the time crunch, he says he wanted to give it to charity.

"People get meat who might not otherwise have meat," he says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported this month that some 35.5 million people in the United States said they lacked resources to get food during at least some point in 2006. The figure, which does not include homeless people, is up from 35.1 million in 2005.

On the Net: ACCESS Inc.: www.access-inc.org; America's Second Harvest: www.secondharvest.org