GREENFIELD — Your freezer at home is packed but you’ve shot one more deer. What can you do?
Donate it to a food bank, lawmakers say.
A bill making its way through the Indiana General Assembly places more money into the state’s Sportsmans Benevolence Fund, an account that has the ability to pay to process meat from hundreds of deer.
State Sen. Mike Crider (R-Greenfield), author of SB 364, said most hunters may use only one deer a year to feed their families. Those who kill more deer than they plan to eat can donate them for processing. The meat is then donated to food banks across the state.
The program can provide about 500,000 meals a year to hungry Hoosiers across the state.
The bill was approved unanimously by the Senate Tuesday and will next be heard by the House.
Crider, a former DNR director, set up the fund in 2008. But since then only donations have kept the fund going and few know the program is even available.
The bill making its way through the Legislature would give the fund enough financial footing to make it well-known and beneficial, Crider said.
Since 2008, about $42,000 has been donated to the fund to process venison. But Crider’s bill asks for an annual state appropriation of $150,000.
Since each deer yields about 200 meals and costs between $50 and $70 to process, Crider estimates the program would provide half a million meals to the needy each year.
“The amount of money we’re talking about currently is what I felt like was the minimal amount to really determine how successful this program can be statewide,” Crider said.
The exact dollar figure for the bill hasn’t been approved yet, Crider added. Because the measure would have to be written into the state budget, requests for money will be ironed out toward the end of the legislative session.
But Crider feels confident the bill will pass because it has wide support. Not only will it feed the state’s hungry, he said, but it will help reduce the deer population – which is a problem in rural parts of the state.
“(In) this program you can feel good about helping the needy, and you can do what you can to help reduce car-deer accidents,” Crider said.
The money would go to state-certified butchers across the state; the DNR will advertise the program heavily through its website, Crider said.
“We’ll strategically advertise butchers in areas of the state where we’re trying to increase the deer harvest,” he said. “Then the hunters in that area would know if they harvest a deer and want to participate, they take it to the processor and say, ‘This deer is donated to charity,’ and they just walk away.”
The program would provide funds to the butcher to grind and freeze the meat and give it to a food bank.
A few local residents are already looking forward to the boost in funds to the program.
John Collins said he usually hunts two deer each year. Since he’s the only member of his family who eats venison, he likes to donate his second deer to a food bank.
Collins has already used the Sportsmans Benevolence Fund to do so, but he said the extra money in the account will mean more hunters can donate.
“I just think it’s a good program, a good idea and more money is definitely going to help it,” Collins said.
The Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen occasionally uses venison, and director Jill Ebbert said any program that promotes donations could ultimately benefit them. The soup kitchen occasionally buys meat from food banks, she said, and sometimes local residents donate venison directly to the nonprofit.
Tom Ferguson, president of the Hancock County Food Pantry, is also looking forward to the funding boost. The pantry uses Gleaners Food Bank. Venison is a good source of protein, he said.
“We’ve received processed venison in the past from the program… our shoppers appeared to like it, and it’s used by those who frequent the food pantry,” Ferguson said.
Local Reps. Bob Cherry and Sean Eberhart are sponsoring the bill on the House side.
Because Eberhart is chairman of the Natural Resources Committee in the House and Cherry is involved with the budget alongside fellow sponsor Rep. Bill Friend, Crider says he is optimistic his bill will become law.