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 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.
In the coming months, the Montana food bank and other charities nationwide will distribute thousands of pounds of game meat provided by hunters. Sportsmen have donated their kills for years, but this hunting season the meat comes at a time of rising need, with food banks across the country reporting increases in the number of people asking for help.
"Believe me, (game) is a valuable product," said Ross Fraser of America's Second Harvest — The Nation's Food Bank Network, a Chicago-based relief organization with more than 200 food-bank affiliates nationwide. "High-protein foods are the hardest foods for our food banks to come by."
Confiscated elk meat is food bank's bounty
Fraser said he does not know how much game is donated to food banks. In Montana, the Butte Emergency Food Bank reported it received 7,500 pounds of game in 2006 and nearly as much 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. He would have donated the meat to charity anyway, he said.
The Department of Agriculture reported this month that an estimated 35.5 million people in the United States lacked the money to buy food during at least some point in 2006. The figure, which does not include homeless people, is up from 35.1 million in 2005.
Food bank operators say their client lists are growing.
The Food Bank of Southwest Georgia has estimated an increase of between 10 percent and 20 percent in requests for assistance. The Butte (Mont.) Emergency Food Bank had 1,238 clients listed in October, the largest number for that month in at least three years, manager Joanne Cortese said.
Some food banks in Ohio and New York are concerned about reductions in their supplies, as is the New Hampshire Food Bank, which has reported a reduction of 40,000 pounds compared with last year.
The Montana Food Bank Network recently tried to step up donations of game by launching Montana Hunters Against Hunger, encouraging sportsmen to donate wild meat and covering the tax-deductible costs of processing. Some processors also give discounts when preparing game that will be donated, and sometimes the charities help cover the bill. The hunting group Safari Club International also provides assistance.
At the Butte food bank, a qualifying household with one or two people can get 50 pounds of free food — about a week's supply — every 30 days. Of that, 1 pound will be meat, likely game.
Cortese, who received a bill of $847 for the processing of the six confiscated elk, said she was happy to have stocked the freezer with about 1,000 pounds of meat for such a price.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks requires that donated game be from a legal hunt and that no money can exchange hands. The state imposes no meat-inspection requirements on donated game and said it had no documented cases of health problems associated with the meat.
For ease in processing and fairness in distribution, game destined for food banks is packaged as ground meat.
"We can't really give steaks to one family and ribs to someone else," Cortese said.