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States, hunters aim to feed the hungry: Recession has brought an increase in hunger. Here's how states and sportsmen are helping.

What does hunting deer and elk have to do with food pantries, soup kitchens and feeding the hungry? Quite a bit, as a matter of fact.

Several states sponsor programs to ensure that food banks and pantries share sportsmen's bounty with families facing hunger. Legislatures are smoothing the process by providing financial support and easing liability concerns for generous hunters.

An Idaho law passed during the 2000 session gives hunters, as well as the charitable organizations that distribute the meat to the needy, immunity from civil and criminal liability. New Jersey legislators appropriated $95,000 to the Division of Fish and Wildlife for a program that administers the state's venison donation program and provides transportation and meat processing. Missouri passed a resolution supporting its Share the Harvest program.

State support of hunter donations is not a recent phenomenon.

Since 1991, the Texas Association of Community Action Agencies (TACAA) has hosted Hunters for the Hungry, a collaborative effort of meat processors, nonprofit organizations, private groups and individuals who are concerned about the state's hunger problem. Hunters tag their deer, bring them to one in a statewide network of participating processors and butcher shops, and pay a tax-deductible processing fee ($15 per deer). The processors prepare and package the venison and distribute it to food banks and pantries. In seven deer seasons, the program distributed 350,000 pounds of ground venison.

Programs in several states have been successful.

* The Illinois program grew from 12,300 pounds (nearly 100,000 meals) donated during the 1997-1998 hunting season to more than 20,000 pounds (more than 125,000 meals) donated during the 2000 season. An additional 6,000 pounds already has been donated during the current season. Since 1994, hunters have donated nearly 90,000 pounds of venison.

* In the last six years, Georgia hunters donated more than 16.5 tons of ground venison to help feed thousands of hungry neighbors. A state Department of Corrections meat processing plant turns the deer into ground venison for distribution to food banks throughout the state.

* Mississippi Sportsmen Against Hunger distributed more than 185,000 pounds of venison since the program began in 1992. The state ranks in the top five of 25 programs based on volume.

* Michigan hunters have given wild game meat to food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters since 1991. More than 50,000 pounds of game donations, primarily venison, were made in 2000.

* In West Virginia, every Wal-Mart store in the state donates $1,000 to underwrite the deer processing costs for the donation program; and hunters donate 150,000 pounds annually.

* Hunters Feeding the Hungry of Nebraska has provided more than 30,000 pounds of wild game to food pantries across the state since the program began in 1994.

Studies estimate that 10 percent of Americans are going hungry. These families cope in emergencies by visiting food banks and pantries, emergency feeding centers and other charities, after they have exhausted their month's groceries. As the economy slows and layoffs increase, more people with low or no incomes must depend on food donations.

Cheryl Runyon is a senior fellow at NCSL.
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Author:Runyon, Cheryl
Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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