WILLISTON, N.D.—With pantry items reaching critical lows at the Salvation Army, the Sportsmen Against Hunger program might prove to be a viable source of meat donations — if there were a licensed processor in the region.
And, North Dakota sportsmen are being offered a unique way they can give back to their communities.
Sept. 24 marks the opening for waterfowl season in North Dakota, with gun deer season to follow in coming months. Although a lottery system is still in place, deer tags have risen to 49,000 this year, which means more game to stock the freezers.
The Community Action Partnership of North Dakota recognized the opportunity with local hunters and created the Sportsmen Against Hunger program where the organization will pay for processing of a filled tag in exchange for a meat donation. The ground hamburger will be distributed to food pantries, where fresh meat is often the most difficult and inconsistent to stock.
Client Services Director of the Williston Community Action Partnership Deeann Long said the program gained traction until harsh winters decimated the deer population. By 2014, activity and participation was minimal.
The absence of deer, who were rebounding at that time, drove many area processors to close up shop, leaving western North Dakota a processing desert. The lack of certified processors has prevented regional growth of the program, and an easy aid for local pantries.
“It has to come from a butcher or processor so we know it’s been through safety regulations,” said Salvation Army Community Enhancement Director Kristin Oxendahl.
“Right now they are short on food, and there is a shortage of protein sources. Their clientele was always grateful for it.” Long said, who would often drive as far as Bismarck to pick up large quantities of meat to redistribute to local pantries.
The nearest processor to Williston is Parshall, but Watford City High School agriculture education teacher Stephen Kessler has voiced interest in participating.
With a two-day notice to plan with his student’s lessons, he anticipates that his “meats” classes could process 40 deer this season. With a license to process but not to sell, Kessler has given his students tangible experience that resulted in food pantry donations.
“I try to give the kids a good basic skill set in the meat industry,” Kessler said. “Those kids get pretty excited.”
The Sportsmen Against Hunger program limits donations to venison and goose. Though if it’s from a licensed processor, Williston Salvation Army Captain Marion Moore said they are not likely to turn charitable donations away.
“If it’s something common to the region, we would be happy to get it into our pantry and give to those that need it,” Moore said. “As long as it comes from a USDA licensed processor, we’re glad to receive the donations and so do the locals.”
From his previous command, he said he’s received donations of elk and moose and is eager to see what will turn up this hunting season.