Venison from deer hunters stocking pantries

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Food pantries in Missouri can expect the arrival soon of what has become a season offering - venison.

According to the Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis, the annual Share the Harvest program gives Missouri hunters an opportunity to donate deer to be processed and sent to more than 300 Missouri food banks. Last year, about 5,700 hunters took deer to food banks, providing more than 300,000 pounds of venison.

"It has become a pretty successful program," said Dan Zarlenga, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Conservation, which sponsors Share the Harvest.

The meat produced by the deer hunting season that runs from November to December is ground up to make it more versatile for cooking and easier to transport, Zarlenga said.

"What's unique is that a food pantry usually gets a lot of canned and dried foods," he said. "Venison is lean and filled with protein. It's something different for the people who use it."

The donations are vitally needed, especially this time of year, said Sandy Schaefer, director of Operation Food Search, which distributes the venison in the St. Louis area.

"Our motto is 'Hunger never takes a holiday,'" Schaefer said. "Since the decline of the economy started a few years ago, we've seen a 30% increase of people who have needed assistance. We keep the venison in our freezers, but it's soon gone."

Share the Harvest, a program operated by the state, pays to process the deer. Operation Food Search and the Denny Dennis Memorial Fund provide the rest of the money to the processing centers. Denny Dennis was the late founder of Denny Dennis Sporting Goods in Fenton, and was a long-time sponsor of Share the Harvest.

In the St. Louis region, the venison is processed at several approved centers, including G&W Meats in St. Louis city.

"Over the season, we'll handle 40 to 50 deer," G&W Meats owner Robert Wanninger said. "That's about 2,000 pounds of venison. It's a great idea that it goes to food banks. It really helps for this time of the year."

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