History of the Hunters for the Hungry Program
Sharing of venison is not a new idea. However, the Texas Hunters for the Hungry program began in 1988 with a telephone call. Mary Barden Keegan was a socialite and philanthropist in Houston, Texas. She founded and managed the End Hunger Network which provided “red barrels” to Houston area grocery stores where shoppers could drop off purchased food products to be distributed to the hungry. Mary’s End Hunger Network eventually merged with the Houston Food Bank which named their kitchen the Keegan Kitchen in her honor. The 10,000 square foot facility can provide up to 20,000 meals each day to the hungry.
Mary and her husband were frequent diners in Houston restaurants, some of whom featured venison on their menus. Knowing that Texas was blessed with a very large population of native deer she wondered why that could not be used as a source of healthy protein for the hungry. She learned from the restaurant owners that the source of venison on their menus was Broken Arrow Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. This led to a call to Mike Hughes, owner of Broken Arrow Ranch (www.brokenarrowranch.com).
Mary asked Mike if he thought there might be a way for hunters to legally donate venison. Mike’s business was based on legally harvested and inspected non-native species of deer and antelope, not native whitetail deer which were protected from commercial sale. Using his knowledge of the meat processing business and the applicable meat inspection regulations, Mike worked with the Texas State Meat Inspection Program, Food Banks, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and deer processors to develop a model that met the requirements, and the program was implemented.
To build hunter awareness and interest, several articles were published in local and national magazines and newspapers. Quickly, calls came in from other states interested in forming similar programs. One of the first calls was from David Horne who managed a gleaning program for the Society of St. Andrew in Virginia. Based on the growing interest, Mike organized a meeting at a hotel in St. Louis where representatives from Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, and several other states came to discuss starting programs. The group agreed that local control was better than a “centralized” organization. This would allow each group to establish policies and procedures appropriate to their state and provide closer contact and motivation with hunters.
As time went by, Mike heard from other groups of hunters who were already donating part of their harvest to needy people. There is no such thing as an “original idea”.
All of these organizations depend on the good will and effort of the deer hunting community. They are closely aligned with state wildlife regulatory agencies. Many raise funds through donations made by hunters when they purchase their hunting license. Other fund-raising efforts include banquets, auctions, and shooting competitions. The programs have a working relationship with local meat inspection authorities and food banks. Most of them depend on voluntary management and promotion. In many cases the hunter donating the deer does not pay the processing cost. The processor is most often compensated by payments from the receiving food bank. Usually the payment is made for pounds of meat received by the food bank.