TIFFIN — I remember it as a great fishing day at Lake Mohawk. A breach in the dam had concentrated the fish into a wild ribbon of water down the center of the small impoundment located just off Seneca County Road 16, a few miles south of town.
My dad and I caught a bunch of fish, and some big ones. I looked forward to going home and showing them off to everyone, and to the many meals they would provide. But on the 20-minute ride back to Fostoria, my father explained that while we had a lot of fish, there were some people he knew that had none. Our first stop would be to give most of the catch away.
It was a lesson in sharing that made an indelible impression on a 10-year-old kid. My parents didn’t believe that throwing some money in the Sunday collection basket fulfilled their duty — they also lived the Corporal Works of Mercy that we had learned in school and heard about in the homily. If people were hungry, you gave them food, regardless of who they were, where they lived, or what the circumstances were.
I was reminded of that lesson in basic human compassion when I looked at the work done by the Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry ministry. With no fanfare, no drama, no banging the drum or playing the politically correct violins, they have been helping their fellow man by simply feeding the body, and hoping to simultaneously nurture the soul.
The FHFH program quietly assumes one of the lead roles in providing area homeless shelters and free food programs with a critical part of the nutrition that is distributed to those in need. While there are usually ample supplies of breads and pastas, these charities often struggle to come up with sufficient amounts of quality protein.
Venison — the meat from deer — is lower in calories, cholesterol, and fat than most cuts of beef or pork, yet it has a high amount of protein, no carbohydrates, and it contains 10 essential amino acids.
Kay Byroads of the Community Compassion food pantry at Grace Community Church in Bryan said the donations of venison from the Williams County FHFH chapter allow her organization to save money by not purchasing beef, and to distribute healthier foods.
“It has been a God-send to have this venison to distribute to those in need,” she said. “This source of good protein is a great help in our work.”
In 2013, the Defiance County chapter donated more than 5,700 meals worth of venison to food banks. Ken Baird directs that FHFH effort, and he said the hunters involved in the program are happy to share what they harvest.
“Normally, most hunters are not going to shoot more than what they need for their family, but they really like the fact that this arrangement allows them to share with folks who really need the meat,” he said.
The format for the donation program allows hunters to drop off fresh-killed deer at various butcher shops in the area, and the butchers process and package the venison at cost, and then distribute it to the food pantries. Contributions, grants, and other donations help cover the processing costs.
“The butchers have been great to work with, and between them and the hunters and the volunteers at these food pantries, a lot of hungry people get fed,” Baird said. “It really restores your faith in humanity to see how much good comes out of this.”
Baird added that the set-up allows the donors of the venison to remain anonymous, and the recipients to retain their dignity.
“I don’t know who gets it, and I don’t need to know who gets it, he said. “It’s just about helping people who are hungry.”
The Cherry Street Mission is one of the Toledo area beneficiaries of the FHFH donations.
The local chapter, the first FHFH organization in the state, encompasses Lucas, Fulton, Hardin, Ottawa and Wood counties and was responsible for nearly 6,000 pounds of donated venison in 2013.
The Hancock County chapter includes hunters from Putnam and Wyandot counties. Isaac Feeney, who coordinates FHFH efforts there, said grants and donations from Walmart, CSX Rail, Marathon Oil, and the Whitetails Unlimited organization, plus matching funds from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, have covered the processing costs.
“We get a lot of help, but the biggest thing for us is that we want to make sure the venison goes to organizations that take care of anyone in need,” Feeney said. “At the end of the day, this is about serving people.”
Much of the donated venison from Feeney’s chapter ends up at the City Mission of Findlay, where they served more than 25,000 meals in 2013.
“We are blessed to have this venison,” said Dewey Harris, the director of the mission. “The meat provided by this program goes a long way in helping us meet the goal of feeding those who are hungry."
Amy Ducat works the food pantry at St. John Lutheran church in Defiance, and she said the donated venison has been essential to their operation’s ability to serve that community.
“Meat is so expensive, and it’s the one thing we always seemed to be lacking, but when this venison arrives, it always comes at just the right time,” she said. “It helps us get from month to month without running out of food.”
Deacon George Newton works in the food pantry at St. Mary Catholic Church in Defiance, and he said people rarely turn down the chance to take home some venison.
“It tastes good, it’s a healthy source of protein, and people like it,” he said. “And we really appreciate the hunters and the processing places for their generosity."
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.