"Venison Donations Make A Difference"

George Winner

November 21, 2006

In government we’re always searching for ways to encourage citizens to participate in the public arena, to contribute their experience, expertise and sense of civic-mindedness to strengthen our communities.

That’s the idea behind state initiatives like the Adopt-a-Highway program, where local service organizations and concerned citizens devote time to keeping local roadways clean. In fact, over the past 15 years the Adopt-a-Highway program has helped keep more than 5,000 miles of roadways free from litter. There are currently 2,400 active Adopt-a-Highway agreements in place across New York State.

So with another hunting season underway -- and as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday -- I’m glad to be able to highlight another meaningful example of a program the State Legislature helped establish over a decade ago, one that continues to benefit communities today.

It was 13 years ago, in fact, when a locally based "Hunters for the Hungry" program was prepared to donate 400 pounds of venison for distribution to the needy and discovered that state law prevented them, and other similar groups operating in central and western New York, from doing so. The law in 1993 deemed it illegal to distribute, for public consumption, meat from animals that were not slaughtered under qualified supervision to ensure that the meat was safe to eat. As a result, "Hunters for the Hungry" programs operating throughout New York at that time were being told they couldn’t donate over 10,000 pounds of venison to food banks and other organizations providing meals to the unemployed, shut-ins, senior citizens and other needy citizens.

It just didn't make any sense that hunters weren’t allowed to donate perfectly healthy, nutritionally sound food to those who needed and would appreciate such a good meal. So the Legislature quickly acted to establish a program to address the appropriate health concerns and allow the donations to be made before the meat spoiled.

The venison donation program that resulted is now coordinated by the Bath-based Venison Donation Coalition, a broad-based partnership that includes a host of area organizations. Established in 1993 (and then made permanent several years later), the program has allowed sportsmen and women to donate venison and other game to food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens and additional not-for-profit organizations and charities that feed the poor. Sportsmen and women were provided the opportunity to demonstrate and respond to their concern for the state's neediest citizens, and their response has been overwhelming. Today the Venison Donation Coalition operates in most of the state’s 62 counties, including all area counties. Countless needy citizens have enjoyed nutritious meals as a result. Since the year 2000, the Coalition has coordinated the collection and distribution of over 400,000 pounds of ground venison -- equal to more than 1 million servings of highly nutritious, low fat, high protein meat -- for distribution by regional food banks. The Coalition’s goal this year is to reach the two million serving milestone.

It's an admirable effort. While it may not readily come to mind as one of our building blocks, it surely is. You can’t underestimate the spirit of commitment and giving it exemplifies. We will continue to develop infrastructure, promote tourism, improve schools, protect citizens and do anything and everything possible to enhance our economic standing, but along with these fundamental responsibilities is a responsibility to the quality of life for everyone in the community. That’s what’s important, appropriate and meaningful about the Venison Donation Program.

So as the 2006 hunting season continues and as we celebrate this holiday season, it’s worthwhile to remember the Venison Donation Program. It’s been successful for over a decade due to the commitment of the hunters, sportsmen’s federations, farmers, meat processors and others who form the core of its operation. Credit for its success goes, as well, to the civic groups, employers, community leaders and individual citizens who have donated financial and promotional support that also help fuel the program’s ongoing expansion.

Anyone seeking more information can visit the Venison Donation Coalition online.