Deer hunting season just wrapped up in Georgia. For the past several years, the end of the season has meant tons of donated venison coming into local food banks, which in turn distribute the meet to smaller food pantries and charities.
Not this year.
A thinner deer population is partly to blame, but most say the economy is the biggest driver.
“We didn’t receive any [venison],” says Dave Iverson, head of the Columbia County Cares Food Pantry near August, Ga. “We usually get somewhere between 200-300 lbs. of meat, but this year we didn’t get any.”
That’s a big deal to Iverson’s pantry, which uses the donated venison to supplement its meals.
Craig Garner coordinates food donations for the Golden Harvest Community Food Bank. He says a little venison goes a long way for the 300 nonprofits his agency serves.
“Hamburgers, chili, spaghetti sauce. There’s a number of different items” the venison goes into, he says.
Deer meat donations to Golden Harvest are down by more than half this year, Garner says.
John Becker has an idea why. He’s President and CEO of the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, a regional organization that provides food to smaller food pantries. Becker says hunters just aren’t giving as much venison away.
“There’s a lot more people out of work, and they need to put meat on the table. And they’re hunting to feed their families,” he says.
Becker estimates that in past years, his agency has seen upwards of 20,000 lbs. of donated deer meat. This year, it’s in the hundreds.
And it’s not only meat in short supply. Charitable donations to process it are down, too.
Food banks hope this year is an anomaly, and not the start of a trend.