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Hunters with heart can help the hungry

Hunters with heart are giving a portion of their bounty to help feed Lincoln Countians living below the poverty line.

Deer season is in full swing and the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s Hunter’s Harvest Program has begun, allowing hunters to share their harvest with some of the state’s neediest families and children.

Donated venison supplies a low-cost source of protein that is often lacking in the diets of underprivileged Mississippi families. The Hunter’s Harvest Program works with deer hunters and participating deer processors from across the state to provide a network for the donation, processing and distribution of venison harvested by Mississippi sportsmen.

The donated venison is distributed through the Mississippi Food Network to their member agencies operating food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and other social services agencies across the state. 

“Every pound of venison donated to the program provides four meals for needy Mississippians,” said Charles H. Beady Jr., chief executive officer of Mississippi Food Network. “Last year alone, the program provided more than 30,000 meals for families in need. Mississippi’s deer hunters should be very proud of what they are doing to help those who are less fortunate here at home.” 

The Hunter’s Harvest program began in 2011, and provides more than 10,000 pounds of venison a year to the impoverished. More than 30 processors participate in Hunter’s Harvest, which benefits 33 charities and other organizations statewide.

In Lincoln County, hunters can make donations at Knight’s Deer Processing & Meat Market, which benefits Brookhaven Outreach Ministries, and Diamond J Meat Market and Processing, which benefits the Berean’s Children’s Home and the Doll’s House. In Ruth, hunters can donate at Boyd Deer Processing, which benefits Dickerson Place.

“It’s a really good program and it helps out a lot for these places that really and truly need it,” said Kris Xifos, whose family owns Diamond J’s. “Places like that need to rely on their funding and donations for important things and you don’t want them to have to waste donations on food purchases alone. If there’s any way we can come in and help offset those costs and supply food for them that all they have to do is cook and eat and they don’t have to spend buying, shopping for it, it really helps them out a tremendous amount.”

It is estimated that some 400,000 Mississippians, including more than 93,000 children, live below the federal poverty line and receive emergency food each year. 

“This life-changing program helps meet one of Mississippi’s greatest needs, taking care of impoverished families and children statewide,” said Ashlee Ellis Smith, executive director of the Mississippi Wildlife Federation.

“White-tailed deer are an overly abundant natural resource here in Mississippi, and Hunter’s Harvest is a great way for deer hunters to manage the resource and help those that are less fortunate at the same time.” 

MWF provides promotional branded material such as banners, brochures and freezer bags to the processors, and even freezers if needed.

Hunters can choose to donate all or a portion of their harvest to the program in one of several ways. They can “pitch in a pound” wherein they donate a portion of their processed order to the program, or they can donate an entire deer and either pay the processing fees themselves or request that the Hunter’s Harvest Program pay the expenses for processing. The venison is then ground and kept in frozen storage until it is picked up by a designated charity for use in that charity’s food program.

Xifos said many hunters who bring deer to them to be processed will ask that a portion of their meat be donated to Hunter’s Harvest. Sometimes that means a few pounds of sausage or ground venison, sometimes it’s even the entire deer.

“We put it in a separate freezer and when deer season is over we contact the Hunter’s Harvest reps and they come and collect everything and distribute it to the people we selected for our area. It’s a super simple, easy process,” he said. “The hunters love it. Everybody that participates, they love it, they’ve done it before. They think it’s an amazing thing, a great thing.”

To find a participating processor in your area or to make a financial contribution to the Hunter’s Harvest Program, visit www.mswildlife.org/hunters-harvest or contact the MWF at 601-605-1790.