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Donated venison boosts food pantries


December 12, 2002 Wausau Daily Herald by Jessica Bock

Although fewer deer hunters took to the woods this fall, some area food pantries expect to receive record amounts of donated venison from this year's hunt.

Most patrons gladly accept the meat, said Mary Miller, donations coordinator of the food pantry at The Neighbors' Place, 745 Scott St., Wausau.

Last year, The Neighbors' Place handed out about 1,200 pounds of venison. The food pantry already has surpassed that number this year, and the staff expects to have venison available through January, Miller said. The donated venison is an important boost to the food pantry. It was struggling to keep food on its shelves earlier this year after seeing an increase in patrons and a drop in donations because of the slumping economy.

Officials with the Department of Natural Resources' statewide venison donation program expected hunters to give more venison this year because of concerns about chronic wasting disease and the safety of eating the meat.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal brain disease that attacks deer. Experts say there is no scientific evidence the disease can infect people, but the World Health Organization advises people not to eat any part of a deer that shows symptoms of the disease.

The amount of meat donated is up about 20 percent from last year, said Laurie Fike of the state DNR office.

As of Dec. 3, hunters had donated 4,823 deer, providing about 215,000 pounds of meat for needy families across the state, she said, adding that 42 counties and 85 processors participated in the venison donation program.

The increase in donations also could be attributed to more awareness of the program, which is in its third year, among hunters, Fike said.

About 50 percent of the patrons at The Neighbors' Place take home venison, Miller said. That's about the same ratio of families that accepted venison in the past.

The Community Food Pantry of Merrill asked its patrons to sign a waiver before taking donated venison this year.

The waiver and other chronic wasting disease fears have not deterred patrons from taking the venison, said Sister Anita Wolf, who manages the food pantry at 608 E. Second St. in Merrill.

The Community Food Pantry probably will have double the amount of venison it received last year, Wolf said.

The Salvation Army in Wausau is not receiving as much venison as it did last year. But that could be because of some confusion in the community about whether they were accepting venison this year, Maj. Carol Lemirand said.

But The Salvation Army patrons are eating what venison they have, she said. When the group serves food at its soup kitchen, only about one in 40 people will refuse to eat venison.

The Jubilee House, at 1105 S. 10th Ave. in Wausau, had previously participated in the venison donation program but did not accept venison this year.

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