Hunting to Feed the Hungry

Chicago’s homeless got a taste of wild game last week when the national tour of Hunt Fish Feed made its first-ever stop here.

Clad in aprons and hairnets, volunteers for the organization sautéed 40-pound batches of venison, chopped tomatoes, cilantro and lettuce and spooned out portions of salsa and sour cream. About 200 guests of Cornerstone Community Outreach, a Chicago shelter, got to enjoy the tasty tacos.

In the current economy, the amount of hungry people has risen 30% while donations have dropped 30%, according to Steve Rilenge, co-chair of Safari Club International’s Sportsmen Against Hunger. The Safari Club was a sponsor of the event.

“We’re trying to get the hunters to donate a portion of their harvests,” Rilenge says.

He owns a farm near Indianapolis, where he hunts, and donated the deer meat.

One deer can provide about 70 pounds of meat, which—depending on how its served—can feed more than 200 people, says Todd Hansen, senior VP-chief marketing officer of Sportsman Channel, another event sponsor.

The concept of donating hunters’ bounty to food shelters isn’t entirely new. Illinois Sportsmen Against Hunger, a program from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was launched in 1989 to do just that. So far, it’s credited for more than 500,000 pounds of venison donations, feeding nearly 2 million people, says Travis Loyd, deputy director of the Illinois DNR.

The Sportsman Channel, a cable channel available locally, “wanted to take this concept to the next level, and connect directly with those in need,” Hansen says. Video footage from the various stops on the ten-city U.S. tour are broadcast on Sportsman’s video-on-demand channel, as well as segments on its website.

Kim Hawkins, marketing manager at Sportsman, says its publicity recently spurred DIY Bowhunter, an organization of bow hunters, to donate enough bear, wild boar, wild sheep, elk and venison to feed 800 people at a shelter in LA.

Not only is wild game leaner and healthier than farm-raised cattle, Rilenge says, it also provides shelters with protein, which is expensive.

“They’re very grateful,” he says, noting that the food changes depending on the region of the country. For instance, a St. Paul event earlier this year reaped the rewards of a local fishing tournament.

When told her tacos contained lean venison meat, one Cornerstone guest exclaimed, “We’re getting healthy food!” Another guest at the table was chewing with a puzzled expression until I pointed out it wasn’t your regular taco. Then he took another bite, smiled and said, “They’re terrific.”

FUN FACTS:

  • More people hunt and fish in Illinois than attend Chicago Bears and Blackhawks games (1.1 million vs. 1.04 million).
  • Venison has roughly a third less fat than ground beef.
  • Source: Safari Club International

For more information about how hunters can feed the hungry, visit the website of the Illinois Sportsmen Against Hunger website, or huntfishfeed.org.