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Venison donation program supplements local food pantries

By Melissa Stagnaro | The Evening Sun

CHENANGO COUNTY – More than 1,140 pounds of ground venison was distributed through local food pantries last year, according to Roots and Wings Director Melinda Mandeville.

Every ounce of it was donated by hunters who chose to donate deer they killed during hunting season through the Venison Donation Program, coordinated locally through the Resource Conservation & Development office in Norwich.

While Chenango is one of 12 counties included in the Central New York region’s Venison Donation Coalition, it functions differently.

“Our venison doesn’t go from here to the state food bank for distribution,” explained Chenango County Farm Bureau President Bradd Vickers, whose organization fully supports the program. “It is processed locally and then picked up by Roots and Wings for distribution here in the county.”

According to RC&D staffer Kim Totten, the program, now in its tenth year, has evolved since its inception. When it began, hunters were encouraged to donate venison, but were required to pay for processing the meat. Now, through a combination of private donations and state matching funds, the regional coalition pays for the cost to process the venison.

Last year 12,000 pounds of venison, approximately 48,000 servings, was distributed throughout Central New York as a result of the program, Totten said. Throughout the state, the coalition has processed in excess of 337 tons of ground venison, the equivalent of 2.7 million meals, since 1999.

In Chenango County, the amount of venison processed through the program has increased in recent years. According to Mandeville, her organization received 628 pounds of ground venison for distribution in 2007. Last year, that quantity jumped to 1,144 1/2 pounds, or approximately 4,578 servings.

Mandeville said she hopes they will receive even more of the local meat this year. There is an even greater need in the community, she explained, and the program plays an important role in helping her organization meet the needs of hungry families in Chenango County.

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