Deer Harvest to Benefit Food Banks

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Hunters in Meridian Township love the annual Deer Harvest -- the township's plan to control the deer population. They love the opportunity to hunt land that is normally restricted. They love being outdoors.

And they love how it helps the community.

"That's the best outcome of the whole situation is that we get to donate the meat and help people that might not be able to afford the meat by themselves," said Ted Leonard, a Meridian Township hunter. "The benefit you get of just doing the right thing is the reward."

Meridian Township put its tightly-regulated deer harvest in place two years ago in an attempt to slow an exploding deer population and its side effects. In a report, it cites herd health, area greenery and deer-vehicle collisions as concerns.

That's why it has set aside more than 1,900 acres of land preserves and parks for this controlled hunting. Participants must register with the township and must have up-to-date licenses. They must go through special training courses and they must let police know where and when they plan to start hunting and when they will stop.

But most importantly, they must donate the majority of their yield to charity. A hunter's first deer must be donated. He or she may keep the second deer but each deer after that must also be donated.

"I think it's awesome that it gives us the chance to get out there and do what we love to do in the woods and benefit the community as well," Leonard said.

Slain deer are taken to Merindorf Meats in Mason where they are processed free of charge to hunters.

"We're out for a good cause," said Chloe Merindorf, office manager of Merindorf Meats. "A small business in a small town can make a big difference."

Merindorf Meats skins and hangs the animals, removing the hair before cutting them into steaks, chops, roasts and burgers. From there, they're taken to places like the Greater Lansing Food Bank. Last year, Meridian Township's harvest yielded more than 800 pounds of meat, good for more than 5,600 meals.

"One of the things that people in the state that don't get enough nourishment need is protein that you can find in meat," said Dean Hall, president of Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger, which pays for the processing of the meat. "Venison is very high in protein, very low in fat and that's something that a lot of these pantries, food shelters don't get enough of: meat."

MASH provided more than 135,000 meals last year across the state. Hall says the group would do even more if it could afford it. He says, helping feed the community is a long-standing hunting tradition.

"All throughout history if you look at it, a hunter has to villages, communities, helped provide for not only themselves but other people in the communities that really did not know that much about hunting," he said.

Chloe Merindorf says with all the deer that are brought to Merindorf Meats, the least they can do is help donate.

"I think one meal makes a dent on hunger," she said. "Obviously hunger in our society is a problem and I believe anything you can do to help is worth it.

"One meal is still one meal."