Deer hunters: Help feed the hungry

A new area nonprofit will allow deer hunters to donate their venison to help feed the hungry throughout Cabarrus County and beyond.

Mark Jasmine, a retired orthopedic surgeon and 23-year Concord resident, founded the local chapter of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry about six months ago.

"I heard a story of someone stealing meat to feed their family and realized that significant hunger was not just something that happened in undeveloped countries," said Jasmine. "Hunger is present right in our own backyards."

Jasmine, 55, grew up in New Jersey and has been hunting his whole life. He said this effort can help fight hunger locally but also can help thin out the surging deer population, which can damage wildlife habitats.

"I've heard about (the program) for a number of years," said Jasmine. "I always thought it was kind of a neat idea. Then, when I retired last year, I was talking to my minister about where to put my energies. Her idea was to invest my energy in something I'm passionate about."

Hunting was the obvious choice.

FHFH is a 15-year-old national nonprofit with chapters in 26 states and throughout Canada. Jasmine runs the local chapter with two assistants and is recruiting volunteers, hunters and those who can process the meat.

As hunting seasons continue, he's trying to get word out.

"My goal is to stretch as far as the money and volunteers will let me go," he said. "But I'm ultimately going to be limited by how many deer I get."

Deer hunters can donate venison to the nonprofit, which will pay for professional processing by Thompson and Sons in Albemarle, a state-inspected, licensed meat processor. The Cooperative Christian Ministry will distribute the venison through its food ministry. Jasmine also is looking for a Cabarrus County processor to join the effort.

Because venison is lean, organic and nutritious, it has potential to provide healthy meals to hundreds of people. Jasmine set a goal of collecting 150 deer, which would help make about 30,000 meals, he said.

"The hardest thing for food banks to get is fresh meat, and hunters are in a unique position to help solve this problem by donating game," said Jasmine. "Most hunters want to be good stewards and conservationists and would like to shoot more deer, but do not once their freezers are full of meat. This ministry allows them to harvest an extra deer or two and provide high-protein, low-fat nutrition to those in need."

"Feeding 200 people per deer is the nationwide average," said Jasmine. "Initially, I thought the major problem would be to get funds, but I've been very fortunate to get grants this year. Now the biggest problem will be getting deer into one processor."

Bow-hunting season started in October, and muzzleloader season ended Nov. 13. Gun season will then run through Jan. 1, but Concord and Kannapolis also have an urban archery season that runs through mid-February.

"If you saw a deer 40 years ago, it was a major event," said Jasmine. "There were no deer. There was no big game."

That's not true anymore.

"Deer have exploded over the last 20 to 30 years throughout most of the county," Jasmine said. "That's one of the reasons this ministry is so great. It meshes my love of hunting with helping people. There are simply too many deer, and they need to come out."

Tim Boyd, 45, has lived in Belmont about 20 years. The avid hunter said he doesn't like the taste of venison that much and plans to donate at least one deer to the program this year.

"I just don't have the freezer space for it," said Boyd. "I just want a little bit of it.

"And besides, the churches and soup kitchens obviously can benefit more from it than I can. You can feed 20 to 30 people with just a few pounds of meat."

Boyd said the program is a win-win for everybody because it allows hunters to shoot more deer than they might otherwise shoot. Last year, he shot three dear and had a hard time donating or giving away leftover meat. Hunters with N.C. licenses are allowed to shoot up to six deer per season.

"Before, there wasn't anywhere in Cabarrus, Mecklenburg or Cleveland counties to donate meat," said Boyd. "Now I get to do something I love while helping to feed the hungry. It's so simple. (The FHFH) website directs you where to go and how to get involved."