December 8, 2008

Dutchess hunters help feed hungry

By Larry Hertz
Poughkeepsie Journal

In 1993, a few Dutchess County hunting enthusiasts hatched an idea to help the hungry in their communities.

They asked hunters during deer season to save some of their excess venison, then arranged to distribute it to local food pantries.

That fall, Pleasant Valley resident Penny Hickman recalled, she and other members of the Conservation Awareness Foundation of the Federation of County Fish and Game Clubs collected a little more than 100 pounds of deer meat for the project.

The operation has grown considerably since then.

Over the past 12 months, Hickman said, the group's "Hunters Helping the Hungry" program has provided food pantries throughout the county with 6,880 pounds of venison and other game meat.

"The members of our fish and game clubs have been unbelievably generous," said Hickman, who personally delivers much of the meat to the food banks.

Other members of the Conservation Awareness Foundation meet most Tuesday nights during hunting season to receive deer from fellow hunters and prepare it for delivery.

Grant received

The volunteers recently obtained a grant from the Friends of the NRA (National Rifle Association) to purchase a 12-by-12-foot walk-in cooler at a warehouse in Wappingers Falls to preserve the deer meat as it is being processed.

Hickman said she always enjoys delivering the meat to local food pantries.

And she said the work of the hunters' group has become especially important as an increasing number of families in the county face economic difficulties.

"When you see the faces of the people who come for food, you realize you're providing a service a lot of people here really need," she said.

Cortland James, coordinator of the To God Be the Glory Food Pantry, which provides food for the hungry in Dutchess, Ulster, Orange and Columbia counties, said the venison from the sportsmen's group is especially welcome because meat is usually too costly for cash-strapped food pantries to obtain.

"We've received more than 2,000 pounds of venison through this program," James said. "This is a source of protein we just don't get from most other of our other sources. If these folks didn't give it to us, we just wouldn't get it."

Hickman said her group is always looking for more food pantries who could use some help stocking their shelves with venison.

Those who wish to learn more about Hunters Helping the Hungry may contact her at 845-635-3641.

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