Local food pantries receiving hunters’ help

By Stacie Smith • Last Updated 12:40 pm on Thursday, September 26, 2013

Keeping area food pantries well stocked can present a challenge with rising food and gas prices, but local hunters and meat processors come together to help feed families. Two area deer processors discuss how they and hunters help put dinner on the table.

Sage’s Meat Processing and Catering has been serving the Greenville area since 1948 and part of their involvement in the community includes donating venison to food pantries. Donations occur by various means and quantities, based on the availability and success of the hunting season. Dean Harter of Sage’s said they have donated venison every season in recent years.

“We donate anywhere between 200 and a 1,000 pounds of venison,” Harter said. “If there is a lot of deer around, you get a lot of venison and donations. Last year, we donated about 375 to 400 pounds.”

With a growing feral pig population booming statewide, meat donations are not limited to venison. Hunting parties will seek to thin wild hog herds because of damage caused to crops or to prevent the spread of disease due to swine being host to several parasites that are harmful to humans, domestic livestock and wildlife.

“There was a local gentleman who had a huge hog and donated that to the pantries,” Harter said.

Donating to pantries and the troops has long been a passion for Colin Kelly, owner of Kelly’s Deer Processing in Big Rapids. Kelly recognized a need in surrounding communities and with the men and women who serve overseas. As the brother of a Vietnam vet who was killed in action, he developed “Jerky for the Troops” and “Jerky Worth Fighting For” as a viable source of protein that can be shipped without risk of spoiling.

In addition to processing jerky for the troops, Kelly’s also donates venison to food pantries as far west as Grand Rapids and east to Mount Pleasant. In the last 15 years, Kelly’s Deer Processing has been the largest supplier of venison to food pantries in the entire State of Michigan.

“We are nearing  the $1 million mark of retail cost of meat that has been processed and donated with Kelly’s Deer Processing for the last 20 years,” Kelly said. “This is near and dear to us.”

Like Harter of Sage’s, Kelly receives donations in many ways.

“There are three different ways to donate meat to us,” Kelly said. “One, they shoot an extra deer for us specifically, maybe have deer in their backyard, or maybe shot two to three of their own and go out and shoot an additional deer and we will cut it up for free and the meat will totally go to one of the programs we work with.

“Two, when people come back to pick up a processed deer, we will ask them politely if they would like to donate a package or two and that also goes to pantries. And three, when we are working with customers, we will ask them politely if they have venison left in their freezer that they would like to donate.”

As a means to help fight hunger in area communities, both Sage’s and Kelly’s work with Sportsman Against Hunger. Hunters soon heading into the forest with the hope of bagging a buck could also help feed local families or troops and donate a portion through Sage’s Processing  (616) 754-6380) or Kelly’s Deer Processing (231) 796-5414.

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