ASHEBORO, N.C. -- When the City of Winston-Salem approved an ordinance allowing wildlife officials to use rifles eliminate deer from the Smith Reynolds Airport grounds, they did so in the name of safety.
But those deer have now turned into an opportunity to feed the less fortunate during the holiday season. Plus, it’s just a snapshot of a larger program with a similar mission.
“We grind it all up into hamburger in one-pound packs,” said Phillip Craven, owner of Craven Deer Processing in Asheboro.
The 21 deer taken from the airport have been brought to Craven, whose staff have turned them into 515 pounds of meat. The meat was then brought back to Winston-Salem, to Catholic Social Services and the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission.
Craven is also involved in an organization called North Carolina Hunters for the Hungry. Hunters harvest deer, then they’re brought to meat processors like Craven’s, before being passed on to food distribution networks which give the meat to people in need.
“They can use it for soup, whatever they need to [do to] it, to different nonprofits, or they can hand it out to people to take home,” Craven said.
When he got involved with the program in 2008, Craven had 37 deer donated to him.
“Last year we broke our record,” he said. “We had 302 deer donated.”
Those 302 deer were turned into 10,243 pounds of meat given to different nonprofits.
This year, they were sitting at 4,551 pounds. But that number is about to go up.
“I can remember my dad taking me to the woods when I was probably 5. So, I just fell in love with it and I’ve been hunting all my life,” said Rodney Smith, of Asheboro.
Smith took a deer on Monday, before bringing it to Craven to be donated.
“It’s a worthy cause that allows me to still enjoy my sport and help out at the same time,” Smith said.
“All of our hunters that come in are more than happy to take one for their family and one for the Hunters for the Hungry program,” Craven said.
Hunters for the Hungry says they chose deer for the program for several reasons, citing America’s deer population, which it says rose from 20 million in 1990 to 34 million in 2000. They also referenced crop damage sustained by farmers, as well as deer-related auto collisions dramatically rising. North Carolina and other state's wildlife resources commissions have increased deer harvest limits and hunting was found to be the only cost-effective method of controlling and maintaining a stable deer population.
The resulting surplus of venison is now being used to feed the hungry in North Carolina.
“Oh, it’s great. I feel like Santa Claus sometimes,” Craven said.
Craven remembers a man who had lost his job, while his wife’s hours had been cut to part-time. It was the week of Thanksgiving when Craven was just trying to get started with Hunters for the Hungry.
“They didn’t have any food on the table except for what little they could scrounge together. We processed that deer and gave it to him and the emotion he showed when he picked it up and we didn’t charge him for it, right then I was like, ‘I don’t care if they have room for us, we’re gonna go find people locally that can help us do this,’” Craven said.
For more information on the Hunters for the Hungry program, click here.