By COURTNEY POMEROY
The Frederick News-Post
FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — For some, nothing says winter like a hot bowl of hearty beef stew or chicken soup. But less fortunate families are lucky to see any type of meat on their dining tables this time of year.
That may be especially true this year, as county food bank coordinators say donations of venison, a fall and winter staple, have decreased dramatically this season compared with the past several years.
The Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry program, which was founded by a Washington County resident in 1997, allows hunters to donate deer to participating processors, which then provide food banks with manageable cuts of venison.
Maryland’s deer firearm season, which begins in late November and runs for two weeks, is usually the busiest time for venison donations, food bank directors said. But this year, not much meat has come in. The last day of the season is Saturday.
“That’s kind of the meat that gets us through the winter,” said Sarah McAleavy, coordinator for the Frederick Community Action Agency.
Any other meat the agency gives out must be purchased. McAleavy said the venison donations are ideal because they are free and because the meat is healthy and lean.
“Venison is one of the most nutritious meats you can eat,” she said. “Right now we’re distributing hot dogs.”
Only two 400-pound donations have been offered to the agency so far this year, McAleavy said. In past years, it has received thousands of pounds of meat.
McAleavy said donations may be down because two deer-to-venison processing centers that used to provide meat to the agency — Dorsey’s Meats in Woodsboro and Knott’s Butcher Shop in Mount Airy– have gone out of business since last year.
Clint’s Cuts in Mount Airy and Shuff’s Meat Market in Thurmont are the only two county locations that still participate in the program.
Brian Bowman, co-owner of Shuff’s, said Monday that fewer hunters have come in with donations this year.
“I’m used to doing 80 to 140 deer a year,” he said. He has processed only 54 this season.
“I’m getting an overwhelming amount of calls from these food banks,” he said.
Natalie Elder, a Clint’s Cuts employee, said the shop is on par for donations. But it also provides venison to the D.C. Central Kitchen as well as the Frederick Rescue Mission and the Frederick Community Action Agency.
Phyllis Thompson, coordinator for the Middletown Food Bank for the last 12 years, said the deer meat donations are critical to the needy population in the county.
“It’s a good staple for our families,” she said.
By this point in the season, she has usually received about 14 deer. So far, she’s received only one, she said.
“When we get donations of venison, the families are unbelievably grateful and very excited to finally have meat,” said Jo Ostby of the Greater Urbana Area Food Bank. “I think that’s something we all take for granted.”
“We’re trying to make what we have stretch through the winter,” she said.
Matthew Wilson, the son of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry’s founder and program director for the state, said donations are on pace in other parts of Maryland.
He encourages Frederick County hunters to participate because it usually does not cost them anything, he said. The program pays most processing expenses, and donations are also tax-deductible.
Donations to the program are more common during deer firearm hunting season, he said, but they are accepted year-round, including during the upcoming bow and muzzleloader seasons.
Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)