Statesboro First UMC's Project Deer Share helps fight hunger with hunting
By Kara Witherow, Editor
It’s the other red meat.
With Georgia’s deer season in full swing, many South Georgia hunters are starting to harvest some of the state’s abundant supply of whitetail deer.
And with the liberal limit of 12 deer per season, many hunters are finding – or soon will find – themselves with an excess supply of venison that they and their families can’t consume.
That was the case with Statesboro First United Methodist Church member Warren Ball, an avid hunter.
A few years ago Ball, who hunts nearly every weekend during rifle season, decided he wanted to find a way to put his extra venison to good use.
“I wanted to help out some folks in need of food,” he said. “I’m an avid outdoorsman, and there are some of us that have plenty of deer that we gather up and harvest every year, and I just figured that the Lord has blessed us with the ability to be able to go out and enjoy the outdoors and enjoy what God has created, and we wanted to share this with others.”
So about six years ago he and a friend started Project Deer Share as a ministry of the church and part of its outdoor group. Local hunters donate their deer by taking it to a designated local professional processor who cuts and wraps the venison to assure that it is a safe, healthy meat product. The meat is wrapped in three-pound packages, and one deer can yield 50 pounds or more of venison. Once it’s packaged and ready, Ball picks it up and takes the meat to the church’s freezer. The church’s outdoor ministry pays for the processing so it can be given away at no cost to the recipient.
A few local groups that have benefited from the venison are the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia, Statesboro First UMC’s Saturday Soup Kitchen, and the Joseph Home for Boys, a group home in Statesboro that provides a long-term supportive environment for children ages 6-21.
Olin Lovett, a Statesboro First UMC member who helps Ball run Project Deer Share, handles distribution.
A lifelong hunter like Ball, Lovett has also taken youth from the church out in town and around the county to distribute the meat to those in need.
If he knows of a need, he does what he can to meet it, he says.
“This is what we’re called to do, to do for others,” Lovett said. “It’s easy to do, too, because it’s something we love. Being able to help other people by doing something you love to do is a win-win situation. And giving away food gives you an opportunity to have a moment with somebody.”
Ball, who has been hunting for more than 40 years, says that this ministry joins his faith, his desire to help others and one of his passions.
“It’s just something that came to my mind one day, and I wanted to help people out with the hunger that’s in our community,” he said. “We’re so blessed with being able to do this and we just want to share with everybody that we can.”
Lovett echoes his sentiments.
“The Bible says that we’re supposed to find our talents and use them in a way that would make Him happy, and deer hunting is something we all love to do,” he said. “We all kill plenty of deer for our families and then some, so we thought it’d be a good thing to share the love like that.”
According to many food agencies like Second Harvest, meat is their least available food item and one they’re most in need of. The state’s deer population is estimated to be around 1.2 million, and by harvesting them, the nutritious, lean, organic protein can be utilized to help feed the hungry in South Georgia.
The venison donated to Project Deer Share is processed into ground meat that can be used in numerous recipes, Ball said.
“You can make lasagna, chili, hamburgers, meatballs, spaghetti, there are so many ways you can cook the ground venison,” he said.
Last year the ministry gave away nearly 2,000 pounds of meat. Just two weeks into rifle season this year, almost 300 pounds had already been donated.
Ball said that Project Deer Share looks forward to giving away even more venison than last year.
“We want to help feed people physically and spiritually,” he said.
Interested in learning more about Project Deer Share? Warren Ball is available and willing to speak with individuals or churches about the ministry. Contact him at 912-536-2898.