By Kristine Gill
Columbiana County hunters donated 95 deer totaling 4,700 pounds of meat to feed the hungry this year as part of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry.
Last year, 92 deer were collected, 80 the year before and 40 in the first year.
“We didn’t expect more than 10 our first year,” said Carol Bretz, director of Community Action Agency of Columbiana and the county’s coordinator for FHFH.
The national program has 130 coordinators in 25 states, including 40 in Ohio. Ohio hunters donated 2,503 deer totalling 125,150 pounds of venison this year. Hunters who bag more than they can eat themselves can still enjoy the sport without letting their game go to waste.
“In a county like Columbiana that is very rural and has a culture of hunting, it’s just part of who we are down here. Venison is a very familiar meat and well received here,” Bretz said.
The Division of Wildlife has worked with FHFH for the last four years, matching funds raised at the county level with grants totalling $100,000 annually.
Josh Wilson, operations director with FHFH, said there are coordinators for Mahoning and Trumbull counties who were new this year and have yet to contribute. He expects those counties to take off as the rest of the program has.
FHFH began in Maryland in 1997. Maryland partners with state departments with a matching grant system much like Ohio’s. Local butchers and deer processors are reimbursed with the money raised. In states farther west, bigger game such as elk, moose and buffalo is also accepted through the program.
Bretz said the Columbiana FHFH program partners with the Columbiana County Department of Job and Family Services to get the word out to hunters.
“You’ve got some serious time involved in taking a deer. It says a lot about the community of hunters in Columbiana County,” she said.
It costs about $75 to process each deer. Bretz said she helps to raise funds through a few events and raffles each year. Some groups donate money instead of game.
Bretz said families receive four or five pounds of venison when they come for food. Typically, the food pantries through the county serve hamburger or chicken. Now, Bretz said, they have the deer processed into different cuts of meat that people seem to enjoy.
“Venison is pretty much a gourmet item, and if you don’t hunt, you don’t really have access to it,” she said.
To donate deer in Columbiana, contact the Community Action Agency of Columbiana County. For donations in other counties, contact the ODNR Division of Wildlife at 614-265-6325.