- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

It’s healthier than beef, it’s good in a stew or in chili, you can make jerky with it, and the Virginia Hunters for the Hungry have hundreds of thousands of pounds to give away every year.

“From jerky to jambalaya from stew to chili, there’s a lot — a lot — of things deer meat can be used for,” said Gary Arrington, senior project manager for the Virginia-based organization, which last year donated a record 340,173 pounds of venison to the hungry.

“It’s versatile,” he said.

Since its inception in 1991, Hunters for the Hungry has given away more than 2.5 million pounds of the versatile venison to low-income families looking for a little red meat in their diet.

And while it doesn’t taste like chicken — most aficionados of the antlered animal say venison tastes like a lighter beef, if cooked properly — it does make a hearty meal for a family with many mouths to feed.

“I’m a single mother with three kids,” said Daniela Lizzaraga, a Bolivian immigrant from Burke who has used meat from the program to make stews for her family. “It was a very kind thing.”

Based in Big Island, Va., Hunters for the Hungry last year took in more than 7,000 deer donated by hunters, as well as additional animals taken on special kill permits and from cities striving to keep their highways safe from accidents caused by collisions with deer.

The organization contracts with butchers in the region to process and package the meat. Officials then make arrangements with food banks, homeless shelters, churches and other community groups to deliver and distribute the venison to area families in need.

“Whether you hunt or not, our program is based on two traditions: the tradition of hunting certainly, but [also] the tradition of caring,” Mr. Arrington said. “And folks have always cared for each other.”

Last year’s record haul exceeded the 2004 total by 6,637 pounds, but still fell short of the organization’s goal of providing 350,000 pounds to area communities.

It costs an average of $35 to process one deer, Mr. Arrington said, and more monetary donations could lead to more full stomachs. “We have the potential to do a million pounds of meat per year if we had the funding,” he said.

The shortfall has caught the attention of the Virginia Senate, where legislators already have passed a bill that would raise the fee for a big-game license by $1 for Virginia residents and $2 for nonresidents, with the extra funds going to Hunters for the Hungry.

The Senate voted 32-7 to approve the bill, sponsored by Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican. The measure has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.

The free-meat program has brought tears to the eyes of mothers and fathers who have lined up barefoot in the cold to snag a bag full of venison steaks or ground roast, said Rachel Ewell, pastor of Anchor of Hope in Baileys Crossroads that coordinates with seven ministers to deliver the deer meat in Baltimore, the District and throughout Northern Virginia.

During holiday deliveries last year, Mrs. Ewell said “men were running outside in their pajamas, afraid they weren’t going to get anything.”

“I just stood there dumbfounded,” said Mrs. Ewell, 78, who has worked with Hunters for the Hungry for about 10 years. “They didn’t have to choose between food and rent or a gift for their children.”

Jose Pinedo, another Anchor of Hope pastor who picks up and distributes the deer meat to the area’s Hispanic communities, said the food is a blessing to fathers struggling to find work and support their families.

“I think this winter there was not much work for construction, so when we give them this kind of help, they are so pleased,” Mr. Pinedo said. “They say ‘Thank you,’ … some were crying.”

Hunters who want to donate a deer or money to the program can find a participating processing location on the group’s Web site, www.h4hungry.org, or call 800/352-4868.

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