by Paul Darst
Not every deer killed in West Virginia this week will end up on the dinner tables of the hunters who bagged them.
Some of the meat instead will go to hungry families in the state.
Now entering its ninth year, the Hunters Helping the Hungry program provides food for hundreds of needy families each year, said Marshall Snedegar, special projects coordinator for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Section.
"Last year, (the program) got 1,265 deer," Snedegar said.
"Finding (hunters) and meat cutters to help with the program is not a problem."
But the lack of funding does hamper the program's growth, he said.
"We depend not only on donations of deer but also of cash," Snedegar said.
Hunters who legally harvest deer during the 12-day bucks- only season, which started today, and the six-day antlerless and muzzleloader seasons can donate the meat by taking the deer to one of the meat cutters participating in the program.
The processors will skin the deer, de-bone and grind the meat and freeze it in two-pound packages.
The Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway then will pick up the donated meat.
Meat cutters who take part in the program are paid for their cutting bills, Snedegar said. Then, the food bank is paid a few cents per pound to cover the costs of going around the state to collect the meat.
The Wildlife Resources Section cannot use money from its budget for the program, Snedegar said. The section's funding comes exclusively from hunting and fishing license fees, which under state law can only be used for the betterment of wildlife in the state, he said.
Because of that restriction, the program must rely strictly on donations, but it still remains popular, he said.
Young & Stout in Bridgeport has been involved with the program for the past two years, said Steve Stout, one of the owners.
Hunters donate their deer to the program for various reasons, Stout said. Those who have gotten more than one deer this season, or who don't like the taste of deer meat, are among those who make donations, Stout said.
Once the food bank picks up the meat, it is distributed to church pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and needy families across the state.
All of the meat stays in West Virginia, Snedegar said.
Although the program already does much good, Snedegar said he would like to see it grow. But that will take even more money, he said.
"What we need is a corporate sponsor," he said.
"Right now, we rely on donations from individuals, churches, businesses -- anybody who wants to see good food helping people in need."
If a big enough sponsor is found, the state would even consider naming the program for them, he said.
Meat cutters taking part in Hunters Helping the Hungry 2000 in this area are:
Barbour County: B&L Beef, Belington and Hunt's Custom Slaughter, Volga.
Doddridge County: McCullough Meat Shop, Greenwood.
Harrison County: Hyde's Meat Packing, Enterprise; Young & Stout, Bridgeport, and Vincent's Community Market, Shinnston.
Lewis County: Coles Custom Butchering, Jane Lew.
Marion County: Steve Davis Custom Butchering Inc., Fairview.
Randolph County: Cole's Meat Processing, Elkins; Kittle's Kustom Kuts, Dailey, and Teets Meat Packing, Elkins.
Upshur County: Rock Cave IGA, Rock Cave and Waugh's Custom Cutting, Buckhannon.
Donations to the program can be made to: Hunters Helping the Hungry, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Section, State Capitol Complex, Building 3, Room 821, Charleston, W.Va., 25305.
Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.