I love Christmas, I really do. The time of year, the spirit that seems to be in the air — if only for a short while, people treat each other a little nicer.
While we are celebrating the birth of the Christ child, though, many of us are also out there going crazy trying to find gifts for each other. This is the part of Christmas that I don't like: the shopping and anxiety trying to find something when we really don't have a clue what the other person might like. Most of us have plenty and don't need any presents, but the tradition says we must have a present for everyone, especially if we think we might get one from them.
However, there are those who do need things, and sometimes it's something as basic as enough food to eat. Hunger is something that is not truly understood or experienced by most of us. We have so much food available that being really hungry for extended periods of time is inconceivable. If you have ever experienced this, though, then you know feeding the hungry may be the greatest gift you can give.
This is the 29th consecutive year the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Section has sponsored the Hunters Helping the Hungry program. Since the inception of the program, hunters, financial contributors and participating processors have enabled the processing of 27,066 deer. With their generosity and the assistance of two area food banks, 1,026,593 pounds of highly nutritious meat have been provided to needy families and individuals throughout West Virginia.
Hunters who decide to participate in the program take their deer to a participating meat processor, where the processor grinds, packages and freezes the venison. The Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway and the Facing Hunger Foodbank in Huntington, both members of Feeding America, pick up the venison and distribute it to the needy through their statewide network of 600 charitable food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, shelters, community centers, orphanages, missions, and churches.
I talked to Stephen McDaniel, the WVDNR director who is very passionate about the program and what it could accomplish in the state.
"Our hunters in West Virginia harvest tens of thousands of deer, and sometimes we hear them say they will put a deer or two in the freezer and then they will stop hunting" he said. "Well, No. 1, we would like them to spend more days in the field, not less, and we have several antlerless (doe) seasons during the fall and winter. In about half of our counties in the state, we do not meet the harvest goals for antlerless deer. So what we are talking about here is hunters can continue to deer hunt, help with harvesting more does in certain areas and help feed needy families all at the same time; it's a win-win. All it will cost you is the price of a doe stamp. The WVNDR pays for the processing; all the hunter has to do is deliver the field-dressed deer to one our many processors around the state."
The program is well received by the agencies and individuals who benefit, too.
"I can't think of better gift that sportsman could give than donating part of their harvest and helping the less fortunate," McDaniel said. "Just the giving of one deer can help feed many families. The ground venison that this program supplies is the No. 1 requested item at the food banks in West Virginia. This gift of helping to feed our fellow man is certainly better than getting a pair of socks!"
I could not have said it better. Almost every state — including Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee — has a similar program in which hunters can donate venison to feed the hungry, so if you are a deer hunter, think about returning to the field this winter when your state allows it.
These seasons will allow you to be in the woods doing what you love: hunting the whitetail deer.
It will also allow you to give the greatest gift.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at email@example.com.