By Kara Witherow, Editor
Deer are a big deal in Dooly County.
They’re a big deal at Vienna United Methodist Church, too. The church’s three freezers are packed full of ground venison, and its food pantry’s two freezers are also fully stocked with the meat.
Venison is a vital part of the church’s food ministry, which serves between 40 and 75 families each month.
Every third Tuesday, cars line up to receive groceries, toiletries, and a few pounds of venison.
Locals appreciate having the lean, nutritious protein, said Vienna UMC pastor Rev. Jerry Akin.
“I’ve never had anyone tell me to keep the venison,” he said.
Area hunters keep the church’s freezers stocked pretty much year-round with the deer they harvest and donate during hunting season. So far, just one month into firearm season, 19 deer have been donated. Last year, 28 deer were donated, and Rev. Akin expects that number to be surpassed this season.
The bulk of the food pantry’s meat supply comes from the donated venison, says director Sharon Wilkin, a member of Vienna UMC.
“We live in an area where we have lots of deer, and we have men and women from all over the southeast who come here and hunt,” she said.
Often, the hunters aren’t interested in keeping the meat, so the food pantry arranged for a local processor, Huey Deer Processing in Cordele, to receive it, process it into ground venison, and freeze it. The church only pays a nominal fee for the processing.
“Usually the deer meat we’re given is enough to last the entire year,” she said. “It’s an absolute blessing. As we all know, meat is very expensive, so any meat the clients don’t have to pay for is great. They love the venison; they ask for it!”
An avid hunter, Raymond King donated his first deer of the season to the food bank.
“They need it, and they like it,” he said. “I don’t eat (venison) like I used to, and I like to donate it to the food bank.”
King, also a Vienna UMC member, said he doesn’t hunt as often as he did in the past, but what he harvests he donates. His nephew and several of his friends and fellow hunters also often donate their deer.
Each deer can yield 50 pounds or more of venison, and the 1,500 pounds or so of venison is hugely helpful to the community, Rev. Akin said.
“The mission of the church is to be here for the community, not just the people within our church walls, but to actually get beyond the church building and serve the community,” he said. “There are families in need, and we want to do what we can to help.”