My dad, Rick Wilson, has told this story countless times since he experienced this event in 1997. It ultimately amounted to a “roadside calling.”
As he told it, “I was driving down a Virginia highway one Saturday morning in late September to meet some friends. We were planning to clear a little brush at the farm where we hunted and celebrate the landowner’s birthday with a barbecue. About five miles from the farm, I spotted a woman standing along the road next to her car with the trunk open.”
When my dad stopped to see if the woman needed help, Dad had no idea he was about to begin a life-changing journey with the Lord—a mission to feed God’s hungry children through the formation of a new venison donation ministry called Farmers & Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH).
Dad’s story continued. “I asked if her car was broken down. She said, ‘No, but could you please help me over here by those bushes?’ Cautiously following, I saw a nice but slightly battered six-point buck in the grass next to her car.” He continued the story, relating how the woman asked, “Could you help me put it in my trunk? My kids are hungry.”
My Dad quickly had questions: “Did you hit the deer? Are you OK? Can I field dress the deer for you?” To the last question, the woman simply replied, “No thanks, since my husband’s been gone, we’ve gotten pretty good at cleaning them ourselves.”
While animals killed by cars are often spoiled and not safe to eat, Dad noticed that this buck was still warm. He helped her load the deer in her trunk then stood there as she drove away. He says the words Jesus spoke in Matthew Chapter 25 flashed through his mind:
“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home…I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:35, 40 NLT)
Dad knew then and there that when he had looked into the eyes of the young mother seeking food for her children, he had encountered the Lord Jesus. He couldn’t shake the feeling that there must be something more he could do to help others like that young mother.
The next morning at church, our pastor preached from John Chapter 21, where Jesus appeared to His disciples for the third time after His resurrection.
During the encounter, Jesus asks Peter (who in fear had denied even knowing Him just prior to the crucifixion), “Do you love me?” three times. Each time Peter answers in the affirmative. After the third exchange, Jesus commands Peter to “Feed My Sheep.”
“Feed my Sheep!” the words of the message went on. My Dad continued, “Again, I heard Jesus’ words calling to me, and I saw Jesus’ eyes in the desperate woman’s face pleading with me. Tears welled up in my own eyes as I again thought about moms and their kids going hungry.”
The Organization is Born
We had learned about a venison donation program in Virginia called Hunters for the Hungry. The program raised money to pay the whole processing bill for each donated deer, then gave the meat to local food banks and ministries to help feed those in need.
Dad was led by the Lord to give hunters in our home state of Maryland the same opportunity. With some guidance from David Horne, the director of the Virginia program, and help from our pastor, Ray Shriver, Dad established a new venison donation ministry through our local church in the fall of 1997.
The Lord provided enough funding through gifts and donations that first season to pay for the butchering of 3,800 pounds of donated venison in our county—enough for over 15,000 meals! This success led to expansion of the ministry across the rest of the state, and then into additional states during the years that followed. Ultimately, this program became the national Farmers & Hunters Feeding the Hungry ministry.
Since 1997, FHFH has received, processed and distributed over 5.5 million pounds of meat. That is enough to provide over 22 million meal servings to the needy. Currently FHFH is the statewide venison donation program for both Maryland and Ohio. We have volunteers and participating butchers in 13 different states.
FHFH has been well received by hunters and non-hunters alike. Many who don’t hunt themselves have decided to become involved as financial supporters, like the man who sent the following note with his donation:
“As a father of 13 children, I was deeply touched upon reading the article about the woman who was picking up road kills to feed her family. Enclosed please find my donation to help process one deer. May God bless your work.”
Perhaps most surprising are the supportive comments and financial gifts that have been received from those who have not been supportive of hunters in the past. There was this note:
“I have always been opposed to hunting. It’s upsetting to see animals killed just to grace the walls of hunters’ dens, but your story really got my attention and gave me some hope for all concerned. My husband was really surprised when I told him I wanted to make this $100 donation to your program.”
A fairly common question is whether those who receive the meat like it, particularly in places where eating wild harvested meat is no longer common practice. The answer is usually a resounding yes!
At a soup kitchen in Baltimore, children, youth and their parents were once heard saying things such as: “We never get good meat like this!” and “This is better than the food we ate at the restaurant last night!” The soup kitchen cook, when asked about the girl’s comment, revealed, “Oh, I know that family. “They get food from the dumpster behind the restaurant.”
Hunt Down Hunger Campaign
Today, hunters can donate their harvest to feed the hungry through venison donation programs found in around 35 states across the country. Some are independent nonprofit organizations like FHFH. Others are programs of their state Wildlife Federation, foodbank network, or state agency, such as the Department of Wildlife or Department of Conservation.
FHFH has launched a new campaign and web page called Hunt Down Hunger to help more hunters across America find a place to donate their legally harvested deer and elk to the program in their state. The campaign also aims to generate greater public awareness and support for the wonderful service hunters provide help to the needy of their communities.
Most of these programs raise money so they can pay the whole meat processing bill for each donation, just like FHFH does. The meat is then distributed free of charge to community food banks, soup kitchens, and other hunger-relief programs to help feed the needy. Some of these programs have begun networking to share ideas, resources and best practices with one another.
One Deer provides 160 Meals – How Hunters Help
An average deer can provide 40 pounds of lean, nutritious meat – enough for 160 meal servings of spaghetti sauce, tacos, chili, and more. Hunters nationwide are collectively donating an astounding 10 million meal servings of meat to the hungry each year. That’s already a staggering number. At this point, however, only 1 to 2% of the deer harvested across the nation are being donated. We have the potential to do so much more!
A growing hunters-for-the-hungry movement should be of great interest to the hunting and shooting sports industry. Past research has shown that the opportunity to donate venison to feed the hungry is a great motivator in new-hunter recruitment and lapsed-hunter reactivation.
In addition, the perception held by many non-hunters toward hunters and hunting becomes significantly more positive when they learn that most hunters either eat the meat from their harvest or donate it for hunger relief.
Peter Churchbourne, of the National Rifle Association’s Hunter’s Leadership Forum says, “We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with organizations like Farmers & Hunters Feeding the Hungry to help solve the hunger issue in the United States. We encourage the donation of game meat to help with this effort, and advocate for sharing the important role hunters fill in solving the food security equation. We look forward to supporting this campaign to add much-needed value, funding and awareness to this extremely important effort.”
Throughout history, hunters have provided food for their families and communities. Their generosity is still needed and appreciated today. And in the Bible, we see time and again that God has great compassion for the poor and needy.
We are so grateful for this opportunity He has provided to help hunters across the nation bless their hungry neighbors!
I urge you to learn more today about the Hunt Down Hunger Campaign and Farmers & Hunters Feeding the Hungry. You can reach me at email: [email protected] or phone: 866-438-3434.