Helping fight hunter

Montana hunters can now contribute to a fund when they buy a deer, elk, bison or antelope license. The fund will donate money to pay the processing fees for wild game that will be donated to food banks.

BRETT FRENCH/Gazette Staff

Bipartisan legislation that allows hunters to donate money for wild game processing so the meat can go to places like food banks and senior centers was implemented this fall and has so far raised about $12,000.

“It’s a good thing,” said Sheryl Shandy, CEO and executive director of the Billings Food Bank. “I’m all for it.”

“It’s a great way to allow hunters to be able to contribute,” said Brent Weisgram, chief operations officer for the Montana Food Bank Network in Missoula.

Both groups continue to accept hunter donations that have been commercially processed, with the Food Bank Network distributing 7,000 pounds of venison to its 200 service providers last year.

“Hopefully, the new law will allow us to accept even more,” Weisgram said.

In the past, though, the nonprofit groups would sometimes have to pay all or a portion of the wild game processing costs.

The new law, sponsored by Sen. Kendall Van Dyk, D-Billings, and Rep. Jeff Welbourn, R-Dillon, easily gained passage in this year’s Legislature.

To contribute, hunters of deer, elk, antelope and bison can simply click on a button when they buy their license online, or pay an additional fee to state license vendors. The minimum contribution is $1.

None of the money will be distributed this season. Instead, the donations will collect in an account until next fall. By then, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will have a process worked out for how to fairly allocate the funds to the many food banks and senior centers around the state.

“Obviously, we want to get it to as many communities as we can,” said Ron Aasheim, FWP bureau chief.

There’s no doubt there is a need for the additional fresh meat. Shandy said the Billings Food Bank distributes about 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of meat a year.

“We go through a lot,” she said. “And the bottom line is that some people prefer venison.”

Last year, the National Shooting Sports Foundation funded a study that found that hunters donated nearly 2.8 million pounds of game meat in 2011 to food banks, shelters and church kitchens across the United States.

In the past, the Billings Food Bank worked with processors to pay a portion of the fee for game that was donated, but problems arose and the program was halted, said Clay Shreder, vice-president of the Montana Chapter of Safari Club International. SCI had helped with the costs, but the Hunters Against Hunger program has been idle for several years until this season.

This year, SCI has contributed money for the processing of donated game meat at two Billings facilities: Project Meats and 4th Avenue Meats. SCI will pay half the cost for processing donated game at the butcher shops. Schreder said there is enough money to donate the meat from about 100 deer to the Billings Food Bank.

“The gist of it is we want to spend the money locally,” Schreder said.

The demand for help feeding disadvantaged people and families has remained constant over the past two years.

“The need seems to be holding steady if not increasing,” said Weisgram of the Montana Food Bank Network.

In Billings, Shandy said the food bank supplies vouchers to about 1,000 families a month. According to Weisgram, the Montana Food Bank Network distributed about 8 million pounds of food that served 143,000 people across the state in 2012, about half of whom were children and senior citizens.

Nationally, 49 million people lived in food-insecure households in 2012, 12.4 million adults lived in households with very low food security and 8.3 million children lived in food-insecure households in which children, along with adults, were food insecure, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The agency found that 14.1 percent of the households in Montana suffered from food insecurity in 2012, with 13.8 percent in Wyoming. Both figures rank near the national average.

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.