Organizations benefiting from wild game donations

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Jessica Lewis, with the Joe LeBlanc Food Pantry, and Gene Smith, co-owner of Wild Thang Custom Meats, load a freezer with ground deer meat and smoked deer sausage at the food pantry. The food pantry was one of two recent recipients of wild game donated through a certified meat processor with the LDWF Hunters for the Hungry division.  Michelle Bates/Press-Herald
Jessica Lewis, with the Joe LeBlanc Food Pantry, and Gene Smith, co-owner of Wild Thang Custom Meats, load a freezer with ground deer meat and smoked deer sausage at the food pantry. The food pantry was one of two recent recipients of wild game donated through a certified meat processor with the LDWF Hunters for the Hungry division. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald

Hunters for the Hungry is a program through the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries which allows wild game hunters to donate meat to the needy.

Several charitable and nonprofit organizations at the local level benefit from this program, and so far, several hundred pounds of meat have been donated by one processing company.

The Joe LeBlanc Food Pantry was one recipient. Wild Thang Custom Meats donated roughly 50 to 100 pounds of meat to the food pantry.

“We just appreciate them,” Jessica Lewis, director said. “People are always asking if we have meat, and it’s just a blessing for us.”

The food pantry tries to provide meat when they have it, and this Thanksgiving, she said several turkeys were donated and they still have a few left. However, with the donation of the ground deer meat and smoked deer sausage, Lewis will be able to include some meat along with the normal staples.

Stephanie Holmes, kitchen manager at Minden Teen Challenge, a home for women and teens with children, said they were grateful for the donation they received last week.

“It’s a wonderful program,” she said. “It was well worth the investment with everyone that pitched
in.”

The Teen Challenge young women are shown, through donations such as these, the better side of a community, and that it’s ok to reach out if they need help, she said.

Last year, Holmes said they received about 700 pounds of meat including deer, chicken, pork and rabbit.

“We’re just now getting to the time of year where hunters are turning in and donating extra,” Gene Smith, co-owner of Wild Thang Custom Meats said.

His wife, Becki Smith, explained they are a year-round wild game processor, and they make all their own meats including smoked sausage, sausage links, a version of boudain, Italian sausage, pork link sausage and more.

Many times, she said, hunters will get their meat processed and donate any extra they might have.

“Just this year, we got certified through the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries to be a processor for the Hunters for the Hungry Division,” she said. “Hunters can bring in their meat; it can be uncleaned and on the hoof, bring it in and they get the back straps and the tenderloin and the rest gets processed into (ground meat) at no charge to the hunter.”

Smith made it clear they cannot accept wild hog. LDWF has a policy of not accepting “feral hog” because two different diseases the animals potentially carry. In a letter to all certified processors in the program, Richard A. Campbell, chairman of the board, said, “we hope to revisit our ability to accept wild hog donations later down the road.”

However, since 1994, other types of wild game have been donated through the program to several organizations.

LDWF gave a brief history of the program, in which “local hunters gathered to discuss sharing the game and fish they harvested each year with the needy in the Greater Baton Rouge area.”

Hunters for the Hungry collects game for the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank in two ways: “Clean out your freezer day” in September and “Freshly-harvested game program” where donations of freshly harvested game throughout the hunting season is encouraged.

In 2003, Hunters for the Hungry formed a nonprofit entity which serves Louisiana and surrounding states.

“It’s a very wonderful program,” Becki Smith said.

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